Have you seen Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It’s a documentary about Mr. Rogers, the host of the PBS children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. If you haven’t, add it to your to-do-asap list. It will warm your heart and open your mind (warning: take a box of tissues).
This documentary is an intimate portrait of the real Fred Rogers, whom many say was even kinder and gentler in person. It’s a film about his purpose and mission and a reminder of how far we still are from achieving a level of everyday kindness and understanding toward one another.
It is thought-provoking in today’s world, to say the least.
Fred Rogers’s sole vision for the television show he created was to help children grow up without fear and to help them understand that they are enough just the way they are.
He had a singular vision of kindness and love. He prized inclusiveness and community.
“Love is at the root of everything. All learning. All parenting. All relationships. Love or the lack of it.” –Fred Rogers
He was also far ahead of his time regarding race relations. As a reaction to the death of Martin Luther King, he brought on a black police officer—Officer Clemmons. He was the first black character to appear on a children’s television show.
Fred Rogers wouldn’t let you get away with masking intentions or hiding emotions. His adult conversations were just as meaningful and vulnerable as the ones he had with children. He always wanted to know what was troubling you and why or how you were feeling. He had a genuine interest in the well-being of others. He wanted you to be mindful long before “mindful” was a thing.
“He wasn’t . . . this being of pure goodness who sort of existed on some other plane, he was someone who said, okay, well, what’s the best version of me that I can bring to the world, and how do I really make sure that I create that?” –Yo-Yo Ma
We must all understand this: Kindness is not naïve and quaint. Kindness is a form of oxygen—every, single human being on earth needs it.
We live in a world that takes kindness for granted. Mr. Rogers knew this and worked hard to change it. His goal was to “make goodness attractive.” He truly believed in the innate good of human being and did his best to bring out the best in others.
These root principles of how to treat each other, that each of Fred Rogers’s shows and his way of being was based on, are the same root principles you will find in the teachings of yoga, specifically the first two limbs, the Yama and Niyama, of Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path of Yoga.
The next time you come to class ask someone how they are and listen. Ask someone you don’t know to be your neighbor (on the mat) and share your energy and kindness with them.
In these less than neighborly times, let’s all be more like Fred Rogers, a man who embodied the spirit of yoga every, single day without doing a single pose.
“The greatest thing we can do is to let somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving.” –Fred Rogers