Seven Reasons Why We Need Mister Rogers More Than Ever

Seven Reasons Why We Need Mister Rogers More Than Ever June 6, 2018
David Newell (left) and Fred Rogers (right) from the show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood in the film, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, a Focus Features release. Credit: Lynn Johnson

He was quiet. “For Fred, silence was his delight,” we’re told in Neighbor. We’re treated to a montage of some of the many times that he stopped talking and just let his audience … listen.

Most folks would call that “dead air,” back then as they would now. Today, to sit in silence is practically a cultural sin. We bring our phones and devices of distraction with us wherever we go, even into the toilet stall. I do, too. It’s like we can’t stand to be alone with ourselves. To grow quiet. To think. Rogers reminds us that when we lose silence, we lose much more. We lose, maybe, a bit of ourselves.

He listened. This might be one of the most remarkable things I was struck with watching Neighbor: How well he listened to those around him—no matter how young they were, no matter what they said. Children might tell him something funny. Or tragic. Or profound. He treated each missive as a gift—an almost sacred message, from one child of God to another.

I used to think of myself as a good listener. I’m not so sure anymore. I “talk” for a living, here and elsewhere. And sometimes, even when I’m listening even to the people most precious in my life, I feel my attention wander. I can feel my eyes darting, looking for the next distraction; search the conversation for another opportunity to let folks know what I think. How many times have I lost an opportunity to listen and learn? How many moments have I lost to create a greater connection? More broadly, how many of our societal ills and angsts could be treated and even healed through just … listening? I think we’d be surprised.

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