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Nurturing the Mr. Rogers Within Ourselves

I recently watched “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which focused on working through anger. I cried during the scene where he was on the subway and two children starting singing “won’t you be my neighbor,” which spawned the entire car erupting in song. It reminded me how much of an impact one person can have on others.

In my early twenties I worked for a Fortune 100 company. I was young and ready to take on the world. I remember noticing all these ‘grownups’ walking around looking so serious, some with scowls on their faces. They would pass by as if I wasn’t even there, so intent in their thoughts. So, I decided to try an experiment. As someone approached me, with a big smile on my face I would say, “Hello!” Without fail, every single person snapped out of their current state, almost in astonishment and reciprocated with smile and equally joyous greeting. I would continue walking, hoping that feeling would be carried with them for at least a little while and that, even better, they would pay it forward to someone else in need.

Fast-forward twenty plus years, I found myself on the other side of my experiment. I would catch myself thinking so intently about something while walking toward my destination. Once someone stopped me and said, “Is everything okay?” To which I replied, “Yes! I was just in deep thought.” I was immediately taken back to the time of my experiment and thinking to myself, “What have I become?” I wondered where that youthful innocence was hiding within me.

It is normal to lose our child-like demeanor and become more hardened with age. But normal does not make it any more appealing. We are conditioned to “grow up” and act like an adult. But what does that mean? Yes, we need to be responsible and earn a living to support ourselves and family. But there is so much more that happens as we transition from child to adult, one of which is how we deal with our feelings.

It seems that, as we age, we are conditioned to suppress our feelings versus learn tools to properly address them. Mr. Rogers was an American icon whose television program was designed to help children learn to deal with their feelings. The thing is, it seems the adults of today need more help with this than the children.

In the aforementioned movie, the focus is not on Mr. Rogers, but the reporter interviewing him. It is revealed that he is carrying a great deal of anger toward his father for leaving him, his sister and dying mother. He carried so much anger and resentment toward him that he punched him at his sister’s wedding. How does one get so angry that violence ensues? Every case is different. But, in this case it was because he was emotionally wounded and incredibly sad. Because he did not have the tools to address his sadness, it came out as anger. It seems anger is much easier to deal with than sadness, which feels so much more painful. With anger, we feel like we’re in control…lashing out at others. But, in reality, it is the opposite.

I look at how much anger we have in our world today. This pent-up emotion leads to abuse, addiction, theft, murder and war. Anger is even more harmful to oneself. It eats away at the body and mind like termites in wood. And, if not dealt with, it can lead to a physical or emotional collapse.

In the movie, Mr. Rogers said, “Anything human is mentionable. Anything mentionable is manageable.” He was eluding to the fact that emotions are human nature. They are a natural part of life and, therefore, should be able to be talked about. And, if you can talk about it, you can find the tools to manage it. It is all about the tools. But you cannot find tools if you’re not even looking for them in the first place.

Mr. Rogers was all about acknowledging your feelings…giving yourself a voice. Then, by acknowledging them, you could get help. There are endless ways you can manage feelings. But you must first acknowledge they exist.

Mr. Rogers was not perfect. He was human, just like all of us. He had to practice using his tools…and he had many. Every one of us has Mr. Rogers-like characteristics within us…that gentle, non-judgmental, forgiving part. But we also have the other side of him that only those close to him saw…sadness, anger frustration…ALL of the emotions that made him human. The only difference between him and others was his ability to manage his emotions.

You can nourish the Mr. Rogers within you by first acknowledging your emotions. Second, give your feelings a voice: “I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m afraid.” Third, begin searching for ways to manage those feelings in a healthy way that does not harm yourself or others. Finally, take action.

The movie ends with a live clip of the show with the song, “You’ve Got to Do It.” Its words sum it up:

“You can make believe it happens or pretend that something’s true. You can wish or hope or contemplate a thing you’d like to do. But until you start to do it, you will never see it through. Cuz the make-believe pretending just won’t do it for you. You’ve got to DO IT.”

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