What I Learned from Mister Rogers

My wife Katie, knowing something of my childhood, wonders how I didn’t grow up to be a serial killer. The answer is simple. I had Mister Rogers in my life.

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

Fred Rogers, commencement address at Dartmouth College (June 9, 2002)

Not that this was an easy thing. For 30 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, this man appeared on my television. He told me the world was more than my lived experience. It was going to be okay, he said. There was love and wonder to be found.

Somehow, the fact that I had never met this man made it better. He wasn’t blowing smoke. How could he? He didn’t know what I needed to hear. These statements were broad generalities, that the world was not an entirely horrible place. That fact that he was so sincere sold it. Telling me that I had value should have been a hard sell, but I was so desperate to hear it I accepted it from a TV stranger. Added to the fact that my school experiences were vastly different from my home life, his claims that there was a better world out there felt credible.

What I Learned from Mister Rogers

I credit Mister Rogers with my interest in fantasy. His Neighborhood of Make Believe certainly paved the way for my interest in tabletop roleplaying and detailed worldbuilding. Not Tolkien, or Moorcock, or Howard. Fred Rogers.

Although I remain a cranky, broken wretch of a human being, I still believe in kindness. He taught me that. If anything, what infuriates me is that we know a gentler path exists and so many people insist on embracing cruelty. Society continues to reward that things that he rejected. That makes me angry. Which is okay, because Mister Rogers told me it’s okay to get mad sometimes when things aren’t just.

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