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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person. Fred Rogers, author, television host, Presbyterian minister

A friend forwarded me an email that had what I’ll call images of “the good.” I love images of “the good” for various reasons. One is they uplift me, second, they make me want to be a better person, and third these images help me remember that this world does have goodness and kindness and generosity and compassion and love… which makes me happy and hopeful.

All of the images my friend (thank you, Karen) sent impacted me. One stood out the most. A picture of Mr. (Fred) Rogers and Officer Clemmons. Of course, I remember Mr. Rogers, his neighborhood, and his “neighbors.”

Strangely enough, my active sons attired in their He-Man or Superman gear stopped clobbering each other and jumping off the sofa, and sat down when they heard the theme song start. They watched Mr. Rogers come in the door with his – “It's-a-beautiful day-in-the-neighborhood greeting, take his jacket off, put it in the closet. Take out his sweater, put it on. Then came the shoe switch up and a “Hello, Neighbor.” (not boys and girls, but “neighbor.”

At the time, life was too busy to spend time analyzing why the kids were so fascinated with Mr. Rogers. I’m still not sure, but I now know that Mr. Rogers taught us all a lot about being good neighbors. It’s stuff that could help us right now in our…shall I say, “tense” world.

Here are a few lessons (largely gathered from an article posted on the Greater Good website

1. It’s okay to feel whatever it is that we feel.

Fred worked (and was a friend) with a child psychologist, Dr. Margaret McFarland. Margaret helped Fred with his own childhood memories so that he could write songs and scripts that reflect the idea that “anything human is mentionable, and anything mentionable is manageable.” Feelings were named and tamed.


2. Our bad feelings are not an excuse for bad behavior.

This idea came particularly to mind last weekend. John, our grandson, and our 10 year-old granddaughter were tussling about on the floor . John became physically assertive when the granddaughter grabbed his private parts (at least that’s the way I’ve heard the story). Evidently, she felt hurt both physically and emotionally.

Her dad picked her up and comforted her. When John came near her…again… this is the way I heard the story…she surprised everyone by lifting her third finger on both hands. Uh…no.

Mr. Rogers had a song called “What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?” It gave suggestions like rounding up some friends for a game of tag.

Mr. Rogers always made it clear that self-expression and respect for others needed to co-exist.

3. Other people can be different from us…AND just as complex as we are.

Fred had another song with lyrics “It’s the people you like the most who can make you feel the maddest; it’s the people you like the most who can manage to make you feel the baddest.” Then he’d point out that all of us do things that make each other feel bad and mad.

There was no demonizing or simplifying people. One of Fred’s favorite books was one I’ve mentioned before – The Little Prince. His favorite quote from the book was one that reminds us that the eyes are blind when it comes to understanding others; we must look with the heart.

4. We are responsible for helping others, caring for them, especially the outcast – and doing it however we can.

And here’s why that picture of Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons gets me. I grew up in Tennessee – the South. For my early growing up years, I never paid much attention to the fact that there were colored drinking fountains and white drinking fountains. Colored restrooms and white bathrooms. White swimming pools and colored swimming pools.

When Fred invites his African-American neigyhbor (he was also gay), Officer Clemmons, to put his feet in the same little wading pool, it was a very big deal. It’s hard to believe today. But what Fred did was as big as being in Selma to Montgomery marches. The point is that we all have ways we can care for others. (He usually favored those one-to-one encounters).

And lastly…

5. Being a good neighbor, means taking care of yourself.

I don’t actually remember Fred talking about this on the show, but it is true that Fred believed that he could not make an impact unless he took care of himself. He swam every day. He played piano and sang daily – usually early in the morning. He made sure to replenish his reservoir.

I can use all those ideas today. AND…it helps me to remember his opening song. In fact it chokes me up a bit when I think about how important these sentiments were in his real life…

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor, Would you be mine? Could you be mine? It's a neighborly day in this beautywood, A neighborly day for a beauty, Would you be mine? Could you be mine? I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you, I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you. So let's make the most of this beautiful day, Since we're together, we might as well say, Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor? Won't you please, Won't you please, Please won't you be my neighbor?

How might we use the examples and learning from Mr. Rogers to be a good neighbor and move up together to The Good Life?

(please feel free to share your neighborly stories, learning, and images – just reply to this or email me

More images of the good


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