If I've talked to you for more than five minutes in the past few weeks, I've probably raved to you about Fred Rogers. You probably know "the kindest man on television" from his hit children's series, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, that aired on TV for over 30 years.
Growing up, I didn't watch a lot of Mister Rogers', but, through hours of YouTube videos and a collection of stories, anecdotes, and insights called The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember, I've fallen in love with Fred's heart and perspective.
Below are 5 lessons I've learned from Mister Rogers about being a great neighbor:
1. Create space for reflection.
"I'm very concerned that our society is much more interested in information than wonder. In noise, rather than silence... How do we encourage reflection?" (1994)
I've written about this in a previous blog post, but one of the greatest gifts that Mister Rogers has given me is teaching me about the value of reflection. In a world where we're constantly moving and engrossed with news feeds on our phones, it's easy to get lost inside our heads. Silence and reflection offer opportunities for you to get outside your head and process the things you experienced today.
2. Discipline is key.
In describing Fred, his wife Joanne said, "Discipline was his very strong suit. If I were asked for three words to describe him, I think those words would be courage, love, and discipline – perhaps in that very order" (2003).
Mister Rogers made a point of starting every day by praying for his friends and family, reading the Bible, and going for a swim. While I don't think discipline is a characteristic we often cite when asked about the type of people we want to be, it's one we definitely recognize and respect. Every now and then, we see extreme cases of discipline; however, I believe discipline is valuable in that it helps us pinpoint our priorities and better maximize the short amount of time we have on this earth.
3. Look for the helpers.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" (1983)
Last November, Car Window Poetry gained a lot of attention from people all over the United States when we were featured on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. Our segment aired less than a week after the U.S. Presidential Election, which capped off a highly negative, divisive, and cynical campaign season.
That night, I remember reading various comments from people about how timely they felt the feature was and how glad they were to see some light during such a dark time. These past few months of leading Car Window Poetry have shown me the importance of not just looking for the helpers, but looking for opportunities to become those helpers.
4. Listen to the kids.
In a 1997 interview with Fred Rogers, Charlie Rose asked him, "What have you learned from the kids?" Mister Rogers replied, "Practically everything." He went on to explain how kids taught him it's okay to be open about what he was thinking or feeling. Mister Rogers devoted his life to learning from children, and that's my heart's desire as well.
Through Car Window Poetry, I've had the great privilege of visiting elementary school classrooms and inviting kids to give advice to grownups through poetry. I've learned incredible lessons like, "If a three-legged dog can be happy, you can too," or be like an ocean and "keep it moving." The more time I spend with kids, the more I realize we should spend way more time listening to them than we do teaching them.
5. Keep sharing words. One day, they'll be the words somebody needs to hear.
"I have been talking to you for years, but you heard me today."
For over 30 years, Mister Rogers reminded people, "You make every day special... by just your being you." I can't even begin to imagine the countless lives he impacted through that one simple reminder, and there are so many of those people that he probably never got to meet. That's the nature of most acts of kindness, and it definitely applies to Car Window Poetry.
Typically, you won't get to see the person you share a poem with, but we share those poems because we believe words are powerful. They matter. And if you invest in enough lives, eventually you're going to see a return. I love seeing the photos from people who found a poem under their windshield wiper, or even receiving emails from people whose poem spoke so directly to their situation that they thought it was from a family member or close friend. Your kindness matters.