If you’ve never seen Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, you might not understand the strong affection his fans have for him.
The gentle, soft-spoken man personified kindness. As soon as he entered the house, changed shoes, and donned his cardigan, children knew they were in the presence of someone who cared deeply about them.
Fred Rogers was the man behind the show. He believed that speaking directly into the camera was the only way to interact with the children who watched his show authentically.
Rogers tackled subjects that other shows rarely addressed at the time. He encouraged children to talk about their feelings and find peaceful ways of resolving conflicts.
One of his most common sentiments was that every child was special. Each day, at the end of the show, he would look into the camera and say, “You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you. There’s only one person in the whole world that’s like you, and that’s you. And people can like you just the way you are. I’ll be back next time. Bye-bye!”
Rogers’ unyielding kindness and positivity even had the power to sway senators.
In a famous address to the Senate Commerce Committee in 1969, an impassioned Rogers spoke to Senator John O. Pastore about securing funds for public television. The senator was unfamiliar with Rogers and initially seemed impatient with the testimony.
As Rogers spoke about his love and concern for children, the senator appeared to become more interested. After Rogers spoke for several minutes, the senator told him, “I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goosebumps for the last two days.”
Rogers concluded the plea by sharing a song about controlling feelings and stopping yourself from doing something you know is wrong. When he finished, the senator simply said, “I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”
Of course, that’s just one famous example of Mr. Rogers positively affecting someone with his charisma and kindness.
There were millions of children who watched every day and felt special because of Rogers’ positive message. One of those children was Katie. She was responsible for Rogers’ daily habit of telling the viewers out loud when he fed his fish.
This excerpt from Dear Mr. Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood? shows how the ritual started. The following is a letter from a 5-year-old named Katie:
“Dear Mister Rogers,
Please say when you are feeding your
Katie, age 5
(Father’s note: Katie is blind, and she does cry if you don’t say that you have fed the fish.)”
Rogers is great because this 5-year-old viewer felt as if she could make a request to him. This tells a lot about his ability to connect through a television screen. What’s better is that Rogers came through on the request.
When Rogers won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Emmys in 1997, he reminded us once again of his ability to inspire and spread positivity.
Instead of telling personal stories or thanking a list of people that viewers had never heard of, he used his time more wisely. He simply asked the audience to take 10 seconds to remember an individual who helped them become who they are.
Even during this special, once-in-a-lifetime event, Rogers refused to soak up the attention. Rather, he diffused the attention to all the other special people in the world who never got to be on the stage. We’re grateful we got to be his neighbor.