Three life lessons from the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Mr. Rogers Skip the Small Talk.jpeg

Warning: Minor spoilers

Mr. Rogers was the dad America needed. The biographical movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor? does an incredible job of showing us why. Whether you saw the movie and want some help processing or whether you didn’t see it but still want some takeaways, enjoy these three big life lessons via the sweatered socioemotional powerhouse, himself.

  1. You’re allowed to be angry. In the movie, Mr. Rogers divulges that he wasn’t allowed to show anger as a child. But according to both him and his sons, he clearly experienced anger from time to time. Motivated by his own experience of having to hide his frustration, he made it a point in his children’s show to normalize anger-- he even composed a song called, “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?” that helps children accept and navigate their frustration. So, if the patron saint of children’s shows is allowed to be angry (and express it), so are you.

  2. You’re allowed to have doubt and do things anyway. Mr. Rogers took some time off from his show for a while. But when he heard the news that children, inspired by Superman, were jumping off of roofs in an attempt to fly, Mr. Rogers realized that his work wasn’t finished. He started the show up again, but not before writing a letter to himself that showed just how unsure he was that he could do it; he didn’t think he would be able to jump back into screenwriting after so many years being out of the game. Yet, just a few sentences later, he writes that he wouldn’t know for certain until he tried. He ends the letter: “Get to it, Fred. Get to it. But don’t let anybody ever tell anybody else that it was easy.” Mr. Rogers didn’t minimize his doubts-- he just paired them with perseverance.

  3. You don’t need to fix things to make them better. Mr. Rogers never denied the existence of evil or hardship or injustice. He had episodes on divorce, death, and even assassination. But he never minimized children’s feelings-- he acknowledged their sadness, fear, and anger, and met them with compassion, kindness, and hope. A beautiful example is when, on the show, Daniel the Lion asks Lady Aberlin if he was a mistake. Daniel sings a song about how he feels like he doesn’t belong. But then Lady Aberlin joins the song-- making it a heartstring-tugging duet-- and sings that he matters to her, that she likes him just the way he is, and most importantly, that he is her friend. It’s remarkable for a children’s show: By the end, Daniel is STILL singing about how badly he feels about himself-- there’s no clean resolution-- but his voice is no longer alone. Mr. Rogers taught us that sometimes, you can’t make the sadness go away, but you can make people feel less alone in their struggles with compassion, friendship, and love. Mr. Rogers helped us realize that there is room enough in the world for both pain and healing, both evil and good, and both loneliness and love. And when things were dark, he reminded us to look to each other to create the light.

Bonus: Here’s his song, “I Like You As You Are” in case you needed to hear it today. Thanks, Mr. Rogers. 

First broadcast of the song "I Like You As You Are" (1968).