The Influence of Mr. Rogers

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In an inspirational interview with Charlie Rose, Mr. Rogers reflects upon a compilation of essays that survey his life’s work, chatting about his new book, You are Special. Here’s the clip:

The conversation includes many wonderful anecdotes from the wildly successful Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, instantly transporting many of us to the opening sequence of that beautiful show.

Let’s set the stage:

We can hear the glockenspiel. We can see the town miniature as the camera sweeps across the landscape. We see the stoplight, and the sweeping pan of the room - this seemingly magical place that only Mr. Rogers knew how to bring to life.

For many of us, he still vividly lives in our childhood memories.

Sitting down with Charlie Rose, Mr. Rogers, this wise, gentle, compassionate man, a man with so much experience with children, begins the discussion of his book, a book that he has been working on for over forty years, with the rather delightful wangle:

“The book is about the white spaces between the paragraphs”.

In his charismatically soft-spoken fashion, Mr. Rogers goes on to explain, as he extols the virtues - not of what he says in with his words, but to the contrary - of the moments he created for pause and reflection.

The moments, one would say, that happen in-between.

Charlie Rose himself seems struck, happily stuck betwixt scripted questions and improvised reactions, enchanted by the humility and grace of Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers leads on:

“I’m very concerned that our society is much more interested in information, than wonder. In noise. Rather than silence. How do we do that?”, he gestures. “How do we encourage reflection?”

“Oh my, this is a noisy world.”

Many of us would readily sympathize, asking out loud, both to ourselves and to those in the room with us, “When will this movement towards information reverse itself and move towards a new found appreciation of curiosity and wonder?”

When will we have realized the hard lessons of the industrial revolution? Of the systematized approach to learning - and to life.

As he laments the current state of things (remember, this is circa mid-to-late 90’s, before the explosion of the internet and the proliferation of mobile technologies), Mr. Rogers provides some concrete examples of the types of traits or characteristics that might constitute a return to an educational style that promotes discovery and self-expression.

An education that supports the things that happen in-between.

Mr. Rogers starts by addressing us, as adults, not so much as an indictment, but rather, as a prompt: “If adults can show what they love in front of kids, there will be some child who will say, “I’d like to be like that.”

Mr. Rogers then goes on to cite Yo Yo Ma (a Montessori student and advocate) who came on his program. “Families”, recounts Mr. Rogers, “later wrote in to say how he inspired their children to want to learn to play the cello.” They were grateful for the example and his passion.

Charlie Rose then politely adds, “Because they saw Yo Yo Ma…”

Mr. Rogers enthusiastically rejoins, “Because they saw him love his work.” He elaborates, the in a way only he knew how. “A great gift of any adult to a child, it seems to me, is to love what you do in front of the child. If you love to bicycle or if you love to repair things, do that in front of the children. Let them catch the attitude that that’s fun. Because you know attitudes are caught, not taught.”

What a powerful lesson, one that we’re still learning to navigate today.

In a way, we are all apprentices to Mr. Rogers and his sense of community. His wisdom. His joy. His gentle reassurances. How many of us were affected by his patience and persistence? How many of us secretly wished we had that many awesome sweaters to choose from? How many of us viewed him as the role model we needed?

As someone who loved what he did….

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