This Book is For:
- Parents, future parents, or anyone who thinks that they may want to take on the awesome responsibility of helping young children become who they are.
- Educators, especially educators of young children, who want to learn from one of the most effective childhood educators ever to grace the TV screen.
- Individuals who are looking for proof that, even though there may not be angels, there are people out there who may as well be angels.
- Anyone battling cynicism and negativity and widespread pessimism, and who wants to find others committed to doing the same thing.
Children can sense when they're being devalued; they can sense when an adult truly and honestly cares for them and when they don't, and they can always, always spot a fraud. Fred Rogers, or Mister Rogers to all of his television friends, was one of the most inspiring early childhood educators ever, and he brought his message of care, affection, and unconditional love to millions of children over the course of his 50-year career in broadcasting. He was the real deal, and children could feel it.
When those children became adults, many of them (most of them?) never forgot that Mister Rogers represented at least one adult who always "loved them just the way they are," never needing them to be anyone different or "better."
Even just reading through the comments on some of Mister Rogers' clips on YouTube gives you a powerful sense of the impact he made on the lives of millions of kids over half a century. It’s all there.
You'll see thousands and thousands of positive comments – never hateful ones – with people writing things like, “My childhood was a f***ing nightmare; Mister Rogers was the only adult who ever told me I was worth anything.” Every commenter has a different version of the same event: Mister Rogers changed the entire course of their life.
The Good Neighbor is a biography of Fred Rogers, one with astonishing personal stories on nearly every page. Like the time when Oprah lost control of her own television show during a taping because every child in the audience was so powerfully drawn to Mister Rogers; or when the TV station held an event where children could come and meet Mister Rogers, and thousands of kids showed up, lining up for miles and blocking the street like it was a college football game or something.
However, no matter how long the line was, he would always, always get down on one knee, look each kid in the eye, and make sure they knew that they mattered. He took kids and their questions seriously, and he saw the best in them, which made it possible for them to bring out the best in themselves.
It’s funny: you keep reading page after page of this book and you’re like, “There has to be like some sort of scandal, a dark corner of his life, some secrets…” but no. Mister Rogers was exactly who he said he was. He completely, totally, and unapologetically himself, and he showed through his example that it was safe for kids to be who they were as well. "You've made this day a special day, by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are."
This was a Before/After book for me, meaning that after reading it, I was never the same again. I could literally feel myself being changed by it. Franz Kafka once said that "a book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us," and that's precisely what this book was for me. Especially after learning that the US Bureau of Prisons uses 4th-grade reading statistics to predict how many prison beds they will need in the future, I felt as though Mister Rogers' methods and message needed to be kept alive and spread far and wide. Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003 at the age of 74, so it's now up to us.
In recognition of his contributions, he received more than 40 honorary degrees and several awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997, but The Good Neighbor goes much deeper than that.
Inside this book, you'll learn about his incredibly challenging childhood and the unconditional love of his parents and grandparents that got him through it. You'll witness the story of how he almost single-handedly saved public broadcasting and melted the heart of one of the toughest US Senators on the budget committee. You'll hear about how he was a pioneer in the civil rights movement, welcoming women, people of color, and everyone else to his Neighborhood way before it was cool and profitable to do so.
Perhaps greatest of all, you'll see that Fred Rogers was just a man - a real person like you and me, capable of filling his heart to overflowing with love and sharing it with the rest of us, no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we've done. Fred Rogers loved us, I love him, millions of children loved him, and I think that you'll probably love him as well. So let me just grab my red cardigan and together we'll go look at the life of a real, authentic saint.
#1: “For Fred Rogers, it was always this way when he was with children, in person, or on his hugely influential program. Every weekday, this soft-spoken man talked directly into the camera to address his television ‘neighbors’ in the audience as he changed from his street clothes into his iconic cardigan and sneakers.
Children responded so powerfully, so completely, to Rogers that everything else in their world seemed to fall away as he sang, ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.’ Then his preschool-age fans knew that he was fully engaged as Mister Rogers, their adult friend who valued his viewers ‘just the way you are.’”
This first quote from Maxwell sets the tone for the entire rest of Rogers' story. It was this full engagement, this commitment always to take children seriously, that was Fred Rogers.
In the child's world, he or she is constantly surrounded by adults who never seem to have time to answer their questions, or who don't think they can handle the honest answers. I don't mean to say that every parent does this (and I'm not even going to say that most parents do this), but it's true that millions of children were starving for this kind of full engagement, this total affirmation of care and affection.
That's what Mister Rogers brought to the television screen, every weekday for more than 30 years, and children responded powerfully to that. It's said that when people were speaking with the French philosopher Simone Weil, they could sense that she was really with them, giving over her full attention and her unconditional positive regard. Well, it was the same with Mister Rogers, and that's part of what made him great.
#2: “Millions of his viewers grew up to be adults who hold on to those values and maintain a loyalty to Fred and his work. He exemplified a life lived by the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ found in some form in almost every religion and philosophy throughout history. His lesson is as simple and direct as Fred was: Human kindness will always make life better.”
Fred Rogers' personality was characterized by a deep simplicity and honest commitment to kindness and radical acceptance. His wasn't a complicated philosophical system with lots of buzz words and academic terminology: his philosophy was kindness, and deep, sincere caring was the basis of his attitude toward life and other people.
It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that. Start from kindness, and make that your orientation to the rest of the world; wanting to make other people's lives better will be the default. From there, anything is possible.
#3: On May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce Subcommittee on Communications (a mouthful) to defend the $20 million in federal funding designated for Public Broadcasting, which was at risk of being reduced to $10 million.
In one of the greatest videos on the entire internet, you see an actively hostile (or, at least bored) Senator John Pastore being visibly transformed by the words of Mister Rogers as he explains the nature of his work and the urgency of the situation in children's television.
Over the course of just six minutes, Rogers wins over the entire room with his message of care and affection, and in the end, the once-hostile Senator Pastore says, "Well, it looks like you just earned the $20 million." Here are just a few paragraphs from Fred's speech that melted the Senator's heart:
“And then when the money ran out, people in Boston and Pittsburgh and Chicago all came to the fore and said we’ve got to have more of this neighborhood expression of care. And this is what – this is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique.
I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.’ And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”
-Fred Rogers, testifying before the Senate on behalf of public television in 1969
#4: “Rogers never told grieving children that everything will be all right: no such simplistic reassurances. Instead, he shared his feelings about death and loss, and the extraordinary truth, reaffirmed repeatedly throughout the program, that life does go on.”
Children are capable of understanding more than many adults realize, and what's more, they can spot a fraud faster than anyone. Michelle Obama, in her book, Becoming, said that "children know when they're being undervalued," and Mister Rogers never did that.
He told children the truth, and with the confidence that, presented in the right way, children can grow to meet the toughest situations. He never overwhelmed children or made them feel afraid - he presented these tough topics always with the children's psychological strength and safety in mind - but he treated them like real people. He treated them like people who deserve to be treated with respect and to hear the truth.
“Fred Rogers dealt with difficult topics in a style that calmed and nurtured children. When his pet goldfish died, Mister Rogers didn’t replace the fish. Instead, he told his viewers – his ‘television neighbors’ – what happened, and used the occasion to talk about loss and sadness and death.”
#5: “The first week of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood saw Mister Rogers enjoying a home visit from Mrs. Saunders, an African American teacher, and a small interracial group of her students. It was a simple visit with a hard-hitting message: whites and blacks live, study, and play together in the Neighborhood.”
Before almost anyone else was doing this, Mister Rogers was taking a firm stance against racism and sexism and all forms of discrimination. Everyone was welcome in the Neighborhood, no matter what.
He led with strength and inclusiveness, and to him, it was just obviously the right thing to do. No discussion, no planning, no appeasing the other side, just a radical affirmation of equality and consideration. With Mister Rogers, nothing on his show was an accident.
Actually, one of the characters on the show, Officer Clemmons, became one of the first black actors to have a recurring role in a children’s TV program. Pictured below is their iconic scene together where he and Mister Rogers are sitting in a kid's pool and Mister Rogers washes Officer Clemmons' feet, which of course mirrors Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. After the show one day, Clemmons said that he felt as though Mister Rogers was speaking directly to him through the camera. When he asked Fred about it, he replied, "Yes, I was talking to you for years. But you heard me today."
#6: “Then Rogers would vet the script. His secretary Elaine Lynch remembered how careful he was with each word. When one script referred to putting a pet ‘to sleep,’ Rogers excised it for fear that children would be worried about going to sleep themselves.”
This is just an example of the complete dedication that Fred Rogers brought to his work and his calling, his complete dedication to the principles of effective childhood education, and his personal commitment always to do his best and give children the best possible start in life that he was capable of giving them.
His level of attention to detail was over-the-top professional - in the best sense of that term - and his ability to empathize with children at a deep level and see things from their perspective enabled him to meet the children where they were.
This perspective-taking and deep empathy gave him a window into how his words would sound to children and how it would make them feel. If he noticed that a particular word or phrase had the potential to be taken the wrong way or to scare a child in any way, he'd find a different one.
#7: “In a segment with a folk singer named Ella Jenkins, Mister Rogers and cast member Chuck Aber sang a song that goes, ‘Head and shoulders, baby / one, two, three / knees and ankles.’ Mister Rogers got all mixed up and, laughing hysterically, touched head and shoulders while the others were on knees and toes. Margy Whitmer figured she’d be asked to cut the scene. But Fred Rogers said, ‘No, we’re going to keep it. I want children to know that it’s hard to learn something new, and that grown-ups make mistakes.’”
#8: How does someone who seems so...otherworldly...become the way they are? Who - and what - made Fred Rogers? There are clues to this question all throughout this biography, and the answer starts, I believe, with his parents.
Fred's parents loved him unconditionally, and for the most part, they supported the choices that he made as a young man finding his own way. But they also served as powerful examples of caring, attention, unconditional positive regard, and deep love that Fred would come to exemplify himself in later life.
The quote below goes into more detail about his mother's philanthropic work, but as one of the leading businessmen in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Fred's father was in a position to be able to serve his community as well. Every payday, he would hand out the checks to his employees, and by all accounts, he was a fair employer who treated his workers well.
But what was really cool is that the week after payday, it was understood that any employee experiencing financial hardship could come to him for additional assistance. He called it a "loan" so as to make them feel better about taking the money, but he never asked to be repaid.
And Fred's mother? Well, she used to give approximately 1,500 Christmas presents each year. As recounted in the book:
“His mother was deeply religious, but her life was more joyous. More than anything else, she communicated to her son the rewards of service to others, to the community, and to the church. She took care of the needs of so many poor families in Latrobe that eventually the school nurse at Latrobe Elementary School would just order shoes, coats, eyeglasses, and even furniture and have the bills sent directly to Nancy Rogers.”
#9: So Fred Rogers grew up rich. That much is obvious. Cynical, resentful people today might call him "privileged." He lived in a huge house, was driven to school in a limo, and never had to worry about money. But, as is usually the case, there's more to the story.
A quiet, sensitive kid who was overweight and liked playing with puppets was an easy target for bullies, and the neighborhood kids would hound him at school, calling him "Fat Freddy," and even chasing him home from school one day when they caught him alone.
Fred himself was, naturally, at a loss as to how to deal with this situation at school, and as is far too common, he received some shitty advice from a few of the adults that he turned to for help. They suggested that he try not to care. They told him that caring was the wrong thing to do, and fortunately for millions of children the world over, he didn't take that advice. As King writes in the biography:
“His elders advised him to meet bullying with indifference: ‘The advice I got from the grown-ups was: Just let on you don’t care, then nobody will bother you.’ But he did care; more than anything in the world, Fred Rogers cared. It was caring that defined the character of his mother, and it was caring that increasingly influenced the evolving character of this shy but resolute young boy. Fred never accepted the advice that pretending not to care would alleviate his loneliness and pain.”
#10: “He spoke to us as the people we were, not as the people others wished we were.”
This final quote brings together everything that defines Fred Rogers' personality and stance toward life. He exemplified what the great psychologist Carl Rogers (no relation) termed unconditional positive regard, or a radical acceptance of the other person exactly as they are. It's a total affirmation of the other individual's inalienable uniqueness and infinite value; and, not surprisingly, this kind of attitude is exceedingly rare. Far rarer than it should be.
Most of us are always trying to change people into more "suitable" versions of the people they already are, versions of themselves that would be more acceptable to us. Maybe then we could value them. But the great spiritual teacher Ram Dass had a practice of what could be called "turning people into trees" that is very similar to what Rogers did throughout his life.
Ram Dass noticed that we never criticize trees for being "bad" trees. We might see how this one is a little bent over, or how a strong wind might have snapped a branch off that one, or maybe this other one is a little misshapen - but we just accept them as trees. He turned that same kind of acceptance toward people, and in that sense "turned them into trees." They probably never met, but Fred Rogers sure turned lots of people into trees!
“Recognizing its popularity, the managers organized a meet-the-host event and broadcast an invitation for Rogers’s young viewers to come to the station with their parents. The staff was prepared for a crowd of five hundred people. Five thousand showed up.
The line stretched down the street toward Soldiers Field, where the Harvard football team played, and created traffic slowdowns reminiscent of game days. The station quickly ran out of snacks for the children.
As the line wound into the studio, Rogers insisted on kneeling to talk with each child, just as he would on Oprah Winfrey’s show nearly two decades later. The queue got longer and longer until it stretched past the stadium.
To Fred Rogers, every child required special attention, because every child needed assurance that he or she was someone who mattered. This was far more than the informed opinion of an expert educator; it was a profound conviction, one that had motivated Rogers from his own childhood. When Mister Rogers sang, ‘Would you be mine…won’t you be my neighbor,’ at the start of every episode of his show, he really meant it.”
“Fred McFeely Rogers’s life, and the way it was incorporated into his hugely popular television show, is more complex than it may appear on the surface – as was the man himself. Those who aren’t aware of Rogers’s real work may see only the stereotype: the kindly, graying figure who was so understanding and helpful to children, but also peculiar in ways easy to satirize.
But Fred Rogers was much more than his gentle, avuncular persona in the Neighborhood. He was the genius behind the most powerful, beneficial programming ever created for very young children; he was a technological innovator and entrepreneur decades before such work was popularly recognized; he was a relentless crusader for higher standards in broadcasting; he was an artist whose deep creative impulse was expressed in the music of his show; and he was a Presbyterian minister, bearing witness to the values he saw as essential in a world that often seemed to lack any ethical compass. He was a husband and father, and a loyal friend. He was also, in many ways, a driven man.
Fred Rogers can seem too good to be true. Readers of his life story might ask, ‘Who’s behind the man in the sweater: Was he a real man or a saintly character? Is there something we don’t know? What’s the story?’
There is indeed a story: a difficult childhood; a quest to escape feelings of isolation engendered by his parents’ protectiveness, and by their great wealth; a struggle to remake himself in a mold of his own choosing; and after he found his vocation, a lifelong drive to meet the highest standards he could discover. Mister Rogers wasn’t a saint; he had a temper, he made bad decisions, and on occasion he was accused of bad faith. He had difficult times with his own sons when they were young. Despite his deep empathy with the tiniest children, he could, at times, be tone-deaf in relating to adults. The man who conveyed a Zen-like calm on television saw a psychiatrist for decades.
But his powerful connection to America’s parents and children has persisted, even years after he stopped making television. In 2012, almost ten years after his death, hundreds of thousands of Americans turned to Fred Rogers for comfort in the wake of the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Four months after Newtown, when deadly bombers struck the Boston Marathon, once again Americans across the nation looked for solace in the words of Fred Rogers.
Sadly, they did so yet again after the May 22, 2017, bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, in which twenty-two people lost their lives, including young children. After each unspeakable tragedy, Rogers’s words, sought out on the internet, were forwarded everywhere: ‘When I was a young boy and I would see scary things in the news,’ Rogers had told his young viewers, ‘my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.’ Few indeed are the TV personalities whose capacity to console survives them in this way.”
“The wealthy families that managed Latrobe’s big industrial companies created a year-round social whirl that revolved around festive parties at the Latrobe Country Club, as well as at the Rogers house and the homes of other families. According to Fred’s aunt Alberta Vance Rogers, ‘We’d all get together and end up at the country club. One time, my husband [Fred’s uncle Pete] got sorry for the horses and brought them into the clubroom. It was lots of fun for those who were drunk.’”
“The pivotal moment in the evolution of Fred’s love of music occurred when he was almost ten years old. Fred had formed a strong attachment with his maternal grandmother, and he turned to her for support almost as often as he did to his grandfather.
He confided to his grandmother how very much he wanted to own his own piano. ‘Nana’ McFeely listened carefully to Fred, and they discussed why he wanted a piano and what it would mean to him. As a little boy, Fred was not very acquisitive or focused on what money could buy, a trait that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
But this was clearly important to him, and he convinced Nana that the acquisition of a piano was not just a whim, but an important building block in his young life. Finally, thinking that a little piano for a little child couldn’t be that expensive, Nana McFeely offered to buy one for her grandson.
When Fred was next visiting his grandmother at her residence in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh (Nancy and Fred McFeely kept residences in both Latrobe and in Pittsburgh), he told her he was going downtown to look at pianos. His grandmother said that could be a good idea, and she made sure Fred knew where to go and how to get there on his own. He took a trolley the four miles from Squirrel Hill to the Steinway & Sons store on Liberty Avenue (since moved to Penn Avenue) in downtown Pittsburgh.
According to the staff there, Fred spent several hours playing every piano in the store, and then told the salesman that he had picked his favorite: a second-hand 1920 Steinway Concert Grand Model D Ebonized piano that had been shipped recently to New York for a full ‘heirloom’ restoration to restore the sixteen-year-old piano to perfect condition. It was nine feet long, weighed about a thousand pounds, and, as a second-hand piano, was worth a little less than 3,000 dollars in 1936. It was, and still is, the gold standard when it comes to concert grand performance pianos. The same model piano, brand new, now sells for nearly 130,000 dollars, according to Steinway staff.
The salesmen chuckled among themselves as the little boy headed to the trolley to ride back to Squirrel Hill to see his grandmother. They were stunned a little while later when Fred returned with a check – nearly 50,000 dollars in today’s currency – for the full price of the piano. Nana McFeely had made a promise, and she was going to keep it. She kept her commitment to let Fred pick out his own piano, and it utterly changed his life.”
“And it was there that he began his first opera, Josephine the Short-Neck Giraffe. Morrison remembers that in the original version, written in French, Josephine gets a long neck by the end of the opera. But Fred changed it when the opera was performed on his program on PBS. With help from her friends, Josephine accepts who she is and is at peace with a short neck.”
“The real issue in life is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard them. Some have few and give everything away.”
“That might be one of the best things to remember: that the best things of life are way offstage.”
“More than once, Rogers saw Dr. Orr leave for lunch on a winter’s day and come back without his overcoat, having given it to someone he encountered living on the street. Orr told Rogers not to worry: He had other coats back home. With everyone at the seminary, students and faculty alike, Orr was willing to give freely of his time, his books, his money, or anything that was needed.”
“Children know a fraud more than anyone.”
“Fred Rogers was no pushover. Eliot Daley recalls a comment made by Leland Hazard as they left a contentious meeting with Fred Rogers: ‘I wonder at what age is it that Fred no longer likes you just the way you are?’”
“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully, your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
“Academics who’ve studied Rogers’s work often marvel at how young children calm down, pay attention, and learn so much from this television production – and at how they remain calm and centered for some time after watching the Neighborhood. Rogers himself put great care into the pacing of the program to help children slow down and steady themselves.
One of Rogers’s film editors, Pasquale Buba (who went on from the Neighborhood to Hollywood to edit dozens of feature films), explains that Rogers deliberately lengthened scenes as the theme week progressed, so that the children would get used to an environment that extended their attention spans as they became more and more familiar with the storyline.”
“He knew that young children learn less from books or movies or television than they do from caring adults.”
“Toward the end of the twentieth century, after some parents had taken this lesson a bit far in terms of permissiveness, there was a negative reaction to Spock and his lessons in some parts of popular culture. But the strongest criticism of Spock’s methods misses the point that he was redressing an imbalance in how children were viewed and raised. As Fred Rogers himself often noted, what works best is a fine balance between flexibility, creativity, structure, and discipline. And the best discipline is not punishment, but teaching a child the art of self-discipline.”
“Dad never talked too much about his accomplishments. He always wanted to hear about yours.”
“The white spaces between words are more important than the text, because they give you time to think about what you’ve read.”
“All I can say is, it’s worth the struggle to discover who you really are.”
Important Insights from Related Books:
Reader, Come Home, by Maryanne Wolf:
“Simply put, the amount of money we invest in the first years of a child’s life produces greater returns for each dollar spent than at any other time in the life span. The implications of all the various types of research on the developing child could not be better understood: society needs to invest in more comprehensive early-childhood programs with more highly trained professionals before the first large gaps in language and learning become permanently cemented in the lives of millions of children.”
“During the fleeting time from two to five years of age, children in my reading world would be surrounded by stories, little books, big books, little words, any words, letters, numbers, colors, crayons, music – lots of music! – and all manner of things that elicit their creativity, communicative abilities, and physical explorations both indoors and out. Both musical training and various forms of physical practice such as sports and games help children learn both the discipline and the rewards of focusing their attention.
Our ideal prereaders may not all become musicians or athletes, but I hope they will become little cognitive cartographers for whom each excursion into a new corner of their worlds provides fresh material for their reservoir of background knowledge and their growing experiences with words.
I would like children to have the maximum safe radius for the explorations, but for many parents this is not as simple as it sounds. Joe Frost’s research shows that the radius of children’s activity has shrunk by 90 percent since 1970.
There are many reasons why this is so, but children build their internal background knowledge with every successful or unsuccessful exploration, as well as with every book heard, every song sung, every game played, and every rhyme and joke repeated over and over. There are many ways to increase the circumference of children’s lives.”
“If good readers are endangered, so are we all.”
Read the Full Breakdown: Reader, Come Home, by Maryanne Wolf
Self-Compassion, by Kristin Neff:
“If I have to feel better than you to feel good about myself, then how clearly am I really going to see you, or myself for that matter?"
“The beauty of self-compassion is that instead of replacing negative feelings with positive ones, new positive emotions are generated by embracing the negative ones."
“In many ways, self-compassion is an altruistic act, because it puts us into the optimal mental and emotional mindset to help others in a sustainable, long-lasting way.”
Read the Full Breakdown: Self-Compassion, by Kristin Neff
Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It, by Kamal Ravikant:
"Love yourself with the same intensity you would use to pull yourself up if you were hanging off a cliff with your fingers.”
“If anyone ever looked in your eyes, knowing that you loved them, this is what they saw. Give yourself the same gift."
“Even if you want to forgive others, you must forgive yourself first. Only the free can free another.”
Read the Full Breakdown: Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It, by Kamal Ravikant
The View from the Opposition:
No one's ideas are beyond questioning. In this section, I argue the case for the opposition and raise some points that you might wish to evaluate for yourself while reading this book.
#1: Fred Rogers doesn't want you to be Fred Rogers.
Fred Rogers wants you to be you! Since there's literally no one on the entire planet who can do a better job of this than you can, you're off to a great start. But it's important to remember that, although there's lots to emulate here with respect to Rogers' personality, outlook, values, and all the rest of it, the greatest impact he can have is to help us bring out more of our true selves.
This doesn't go "against" anything in the book - on the contrary, it's one of its core messages - but it's another one of those things that's too important not to mention again and again.
#2: The world is a tough place.
Critics of Rogers (yes, there are some) have said that he's "too easy" on children, that he's not preparing them for the rough and challenging real world, with all its unfairness, brutality, and conflict. At the very least, some others say, he could focus more on self-discipline and becoming mentally tough.
While I sympathize to an extent, I do believe that Rogers did teach plenty of self-discipline. It's just that his particular brand of self-discipline is sometimes too quiet to be heard. It comes from a place of inner reflection and quietude, an inner stillness that creates space for right action.
His is not the "run 100 miles in sub-zero temperatures with your shirt off" kind of self-discipline, but it's certainly not always easy to take a step back, take a deep breath, connect with your higher self, and choose kindness over aggression. The latter is the kind of self-discipline that Rogers tried to instill in children.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
So you've finished reading the book. What do you do now?
#1: Practice unconditional love.
It's odd to think that we would need to "learn" how to love, but we do. It comes more naturally to some people than to others, but it's a "practice" because you have to repeat it, over and over again each day in order to really "get it."
It's also virtually impossible to force a feeling of love that you don't actually feel. That being said, unconditional love is the most powerful force in the universe, and if you can consciously bring it to mind during the week more often than not, then everything in your life and in the lives of your family members will start to change.
#2: Read to your kids! Every night!
Reading is so foundational to a happy and successful life! Children whose parents don't read to them miss out on millions of extra words that other children are getting, and reading outcomes later on in school reflect that fact.
It can also be difficult depending on your family situation and who's around and all that, but more often than not, try to read to your kids before bed! I dislike telling parents what to do (just as a general rule), but this is one piece of advice I stand behind 100%.
#3: Reinforce the big lessons.
Kids aren't going to learn something if they just hear it once or twice. If there's a big lesson that you want them to learn, it has to be repeated, it has to be modeled (by you or some other adult role model), and you have to make it clear through your words and actions that yours is the kind of family that holds onto these values.
Again, it feels as though I'm telling you what to do as a parent, but I'm honestly just trying to help. I'm also probably just telling you something you already know, and in that case, good! We all need reminders now and then. Fairness and kindness and community values aren't learned once and then held onto forever. We need to be exposed to these ideas every single day, and the best person to model these ideals is you.
#4: Celebrate your mistakes.
Fred Rogers never tried to cover up his mistakes on the show. He just used them as a teaching moment to let kids know that learning something new is hard, and that even adults make mistakes sometimes.
Even in the adult world, mistakes and imperfections just make you relatable and real. Running from them and trying to hide them just casts a shadow over your authenticity and erodes trust.
So the next time you make a mistake, roll with it! The next time you don't know the answer to a question, just say so! No one will think less of you - more than likely, they'll actually begin to admire you, and to see you as someone with the courage to learn and grow in public.
About the Author:
Mr. King’s career has spanned more than four decades and has included time as an editor and writer on newspapers and magazines, leadership of two important institutions in the American philanthropic community, and service on numerous civic boards and committees, including serving on the board of The Pittsburgh Foundation.
He served almost eight years as the editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1990s, nine years as the president of The Heinz Endowments, and six years on the board of the National Council on Foundations, including two years as chair.
Mr. King received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1967, and attended the Stanford Executive Program at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.