Finally saw the wonderful movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor? which examines the life and legacy of Fred Rogers. I came to appreciate Mr. Rogers later in life. As a child, Sesame Street, Eureeka’s Castle, and anything Disney were more my speed. Mister Roger’s Neighborhood shouldn’t have been as successful as it was—unlikely star, low production value, a slow and deliberate pace for a children’s program. Though Fred Rogers knew a great deal about healthy childhood development. And when he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, it was an ordination to this TV ministry for children (and adults too.)
What surprised me is that Mr. Rogers’ lessons and legacy have been attacked in recent years. Some claim that societal issues in the United States can be traced to an entire generation of children being told that they were special and not having to do anything to earn being special. The thinking goes that children grew up with a sense of entitlement because of lessons people like Mr. Rogers taught.
In reflecting on the personal attacks, it’s emphasized in the movie that telling everyone that they were special was central to Fred Rogers’ theology. It’s the idea that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and that God calls humanity good. From a Christian lens, God extends God’s grace and we don’t have to do anything to earn that grace. God extends grace because God is a God of second chances and new life and unconditional love.
Fred Rogers saw every child as a child of God, with inherent dignity and worth not because of anything that child has done or left undone, but because God loved them into being and loves them always. Mr. Rogers would often say, “I like you just the way you are.” Perhaps our world would be a little brighter if we all heard messages of affirmation and love like this as children. We can make it so.