Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.”Rabbi Joachim Prinz
On Mister Rogers
I just finished listening to the last episode of Finding Fred, a wonderful podcast exploring Mr. Rogers’ legacy, and impact, and I thought it was time to finally write out these thoughts that have swirled around in my head about him, about love, kindness, thoughtfulness and community since the election that put Donald Trump in the White House. Don’t worry, that’s the last time I’ll mention Mr. Trump and this post isn’t political – it’s about reacting to pain and finding myself wanting.
After the election, I saw my friends in pain, while I felt little more than disappointment. I didn’t see it coming, but I also kind of thought we deserved it. My friends’ reactions were visceral, full of fear and anguish, and I didn’t get it. Shortly after the Women’s March, I volunteered to live stream an event in Savannah where women who marched told their stories. It was heavy, and heartfelt, and I finally got it.
That night, I decided I needed to work on myself – to make the effort to be more empathetic, thoughtful, cause less harm, and to become more useful in the world to hopefully ease some of the pain, hurt and fear I was seeing.
I got books on meditation, racism, diet and exercise, and… didn’t move very quickly, considering it’s been three years and I’m just now writing this. It took me a very long time to read Understanding and Dismantling Racism, because it was so hard to come to terms with the racism I held in my heart without realizing it. I read books on meditation, but none of it made sense. I just couldn’t grasp the mechanics of it. I’ve always struggled with my weight, so that also made halting progress.
I went to therapy for the first time since I was 5, and started dealing with all the anger I’ve kept around unprocessed, that bubbles up unexpectedly, ruining moods and days.
But, I eventually finished the books, and picked up others. I learned a lot about meditation in therapy, and worked through a lot of my anger. I’ve been trying to be less sarcastic, more thoughtful, and more empathetic – and hopefully cause less pain to others. I’ve been trying to figure out my own emotions, and regulate them so I can better hold the space for other people’s emotions.
And this brings us back to Mr. Rogers. He and I share a birthday, and he’s been a hero of mine since I was a kid, but I could never articulate why. Why would I choose this kind gentle man as a hero?
I think I know now. Mr. Rogers is my hero because he embodied all the things I struggle with. He is patient where I’m impulsive. Kind where my natural reaction is sarcasm. Soft where I can be hard. Understanding where I am frequently clueless.
It was also because Mr. Rogers was the helper he told us all to look for. One of my favorite parts of Finding Fred was the discussion of that famous quote, where Fred told us to look for the helpers. All of us who watched him are now adults. We don’t need to find the helpers – we need to be the helpers and look for opportunities to help, to put into practice the kindness he shared with us, and share it with others.
The other big question from the show was what keeps us from being more like Mr. Rogers? There were a lot of opinions on the show, but I’ve come up with my own answer: selfishness and thoughtlessness. And I think that’s why Mr. Rogers is so missed right now. We’re confronted with selfishness and greed on a mass scale. We’re literally slapped in the face with it every time we read a news story. It’s selfishness on a scale that feels like it blots out every other motive and emotion, and feels impossible to solve, since it feels like we’re completely outnumbered.
We are not outnumbered. Like Mr. Rogers, kindness isn’t loud. It’s not going to grab headlines. It’s not going to self-promote or rant in all caps on Twitter. It is small, and quiet, and it means literally everything.
In this effort to improve myself, I keep coming back to the idea of loving kindness. It’s a main tenet of Buddhism and mindfulness, and it feels like it encapsulates everything. It’s the Golden Rule applied to others, and myself. If I am not kind to myself, I can’t be kind to others. If I don’t practice mindfulness, I won’t see the many opportunities that come up all the time to be kind. If I don’t practice mindfulness, I won’t be in the moment and appreciate it. If I don’t practice loving kindness daily, I won’t be able to apply it when it’s difficult – especially when it’s called for in the face of anger. It requires vulnerability – which I am not good at. It requires patience, which I don’t have enough of.
I don’t have it all figured out. I still get angry. I’m still sarcastic. I still don’t know what to do about white supremacy, or how to confront people about it. I’m still really uncomfortable with other peoples’ emotions, especially anger. But, I think I’m more useful today than I was yesterday. I think I know a little bit more than I did in January of 2017.
I know that loving kindness is the answer, even if I don’t always get it right. It’s called “practice” for a reason.
I’ll keep working on it.