What would Mr. Rogers say?

Often we think of heroes as people with superpowers or at the very least extraordinary capabilities. The onlooker identifies with the hero and hopes that some of their superpowers transfer onto them. However, what if the hero’s superpower was simply being present and taking a genuine interest in YOU?

Mr. Rogers was an American TV star who wrote and hosted the popular preschool TV series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001.  In 2019, the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” based on the story of Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers was released and screened in cinemas around the world.

Mr. Rogers (described as a hero and someone who impacted thousands of people in a positive way) was different to many other popular heroes: he accepted people making them feel important and valued without telling them to change. He took time to engage with people in a genuine way. He embraced difficult topics in his personal interactions with people and in the subject matter of his TV show (e.g., divorce, death). In this way, he encouraged others to confront the full range of human emotions. Importantly, he prioritized talking to others above urgent demands on his time. In the movie, Mr. Roger’s says ““I think the best thing we can do is to let people know that each one of them is precious.”  

People don’t identify with Mr. Rogers as such. Yet they feel comfort in being valued by him. He sees in others what they wish to see in themselves. It is a realization of value within the person, no superpower or additional element that is adopted from Mr. Rogers. In this sense, Mr. Rogers is a facilitator of value that lies within the person.

It might be coincidence that the American psychologist and founder of the humanistic approach to psychology, Carl Rogers (same surname!) proposed acceptance (unconditional positive regard) to be central for personal growth (besides empathy and congruence) – these are the values and behaviours modelled by Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers modelled a positive way of being in the world. Indeed a common catchphrase in American society was/is: What would Mr. Roger’s say? In this way, people seek out Mr. Rogers as an external reference point and source of guidance for how next to proceed.

An important scene in the movie involves the journalist, Tom Junod ( a central character in the movie) questioning Joanne Rogers about her husband. She says: If you think of him as a saint, then his way of being is unattainable. You know, he works at it all the time. It’s a practice. He’s not a perfect person.

Mrs Rogers reminds us that trying to live with human virtues requires constant effort and perseverance.

Written for fun by Dr. Eric Igou and Dr. Elaine Kinsella, University of Limerick



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s