Thank You, Mr. Rogers.

I’ve been feeling a lot of gratitude for Fred Rogers recently.

Maybe it’s because I’ve made it a new “life rule” to withdraw from online interaction that is characterized by contentiousness and dialogue-dominating personalities.

I recently said farewell to an online community that I’d enjoyed for years because I could feel myself being provoked into a kind of dialogue that I want to avoid. I don’t mind criticism; in fact, I seek it out. But I’m allergic to criticism that is delivered with arrogance, condescension, or a lack of respect and grace.

Am I thin-skinned? Perhaps. But I’d rather be thin-skinned than hard-hearted. I suspect that I’ve been spoiled by the blessing of good friends, caring family, and teachers who knew how to speak the truth in love.

I think I also learned at an early age to care about gracious conversation from Fred Rogers.

From Mr. Rogers, I learned a sort of liturgy of friendship: The way he came home and took off his shoes suggested that he was at ease with you, that you were welcome, a familiar and special guest. Because he convinced me that he valued my attention, and that he cared about me, I took counsel from him without sensing any kind of violence or arrogance.

He spoke so slowly, and he paused, allowing more “dead air” than any other show host, giving me time to think.

I love Amy Hollingsworth’s book The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers. In that book, Hollingsworth writes,

He knew that silence leads to reflection, that reflection leads to appreciation, and that appreciation looks about for someone to thank: “I trust that they will thank God, for it is God who inspires and informs all that is nourishing and good,” he once said.

She also writes:

He taught me that taking one’s time, especially in relationships, allows the other person to know he or she is worth the time.

I do think that adults must sometimes speak forcefully with each other, and that heated debate has its place. But the Internet would benefit from the involvement of people influenced by Fred Rogers’ sense of respect, civility, warmth, and grace.

If you need to refresh your memory about Rogers’ testimony, or if you want to learn something about him that you didn’t already know, check out this PBS special that aired recently: Mr. Rogers & Me.

Today, my friend Dyana Herron posted this video on her blog. And then, of course, I discovered that people everywhere were posting it on Facebook and Twitter and all over the place.

Forgive me if you’ve already seen this twelve times, but I must, out of appreciation and loyalty, join the parade. Sit back, press “Play,” and enjoy… neighbor. …

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Laura Brown

    Mr. Rogers was a great American.


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