A few weeks ago in a local movie theater, my wife and I took in the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, about a true American hero: Fred Rogers. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend that you do. But, I’ll warn you now, it is shattering in all the right ways.
While we watched this quiet, simple and profound film, there was another film playing in the theater next us, one of those “action” movies. So, every few minutes what sounded like a distant artillery barrage would permeate the common wall. Annoying as it was at times, it was, however, the perfect counterpoint to what we were hearing and seeing on our screen.
Culture battles are nothing new in the United States. Mister Roger’s Neighborhood debuted during the riots, assassinations and divisive war that was 1968. Fred Rogers fervently believed that the best way to help kids navigate life’s proverbial artillery barrage was with honesty, empathy and kindness, or simply put, being a neighbor.
The film closes with a question posed to those who knew Fred Rogers best: What would he think of our times, an era replete with the noise of people with real and figurative bullhorns demonizing and denigrating those who are different from themselves?
Fred’s wife, Joanne, paused uncomfortably before answering the question, as if her honest answer would have to be marked by defeat.
It wasn’t. She said there are far more people like Fred, who are kind, empathetic and who are truly neighbors to those around them. Her answer I think has always been true. The only thing I would add is they just need to be more quietly loud like Fred was.
I’m Andrew Nelson and that’s my perspective.