I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world is pretty jacked up. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the real question is, how do we fix it?
Here’s an idea: If there was any way we could all become a little bit more like Mister Rogers, I think we’d be on the right track.
Easier said than done, I know.
But making the world better is always worth a try.
I suspect even he would downplay that suggestion, pointing out that we’re all special in our own way. He wouldn’t want us to be more like him; he’d want us to be more like ourselves. Our best selves.
If there’s anything we should emulate about Fred Rogers, it is how he used all of his talents to serve others.
“I’ll never forget the sense of wholeness I felt when I finally realized what in fact I really was: not just a writer or a language buff or a student of human development, or a telecommunicator but I was someone who could use every talent that had ever been given to me in the service of children and their families.”–Fred Rogers
This quote summarized a light bulb that had illuminated my own life and gave me a great sense of relief. For years, I’d felt lost trying to find my place in this world. I knew I was talented in a few areas, but they all seemed to lead me in different directions. This quote helped solidify my belief that every talent was useful, and when combined, would lead me down a path that was different from anyone else, but perfect for me.
Everything that makes us special is an ingredient we can use to make the world better.
The world doesn’t need you to be Mister Rogers. We need you to be…you.
And remember, Mister Rogers wasn’t always Mister Rogers.
With this painting, I dug into his archive of wisdom and included quotes I felt our modern world most needed to hear. In looking for a photo to use as reference, I considered using one of the iconic ones that are everywhere – books, movie posters, magazine covers – because, well, they’re iconic. And Mister Rogers is an iconic individual, especially to the generations that grew up with him.
But those images all felt boring. They’ve been seen and re-seen a hundred times, and as an artist, I felt called to explore new ground, even if only to me.
Then I found this one from earlier in his career, presumably before he had achieved icon status. I am intrigued by this younger version of Fred Rogers, before his success was a foregone conclusion. Indeed, it’s easy to forget that Fred Rogers wasn’t always MISTER ROGERS. And even the iconic Daniel Tiger had humble beginnings.
On April 5, 1954, Daniel Tiger appeared for the first time on the first episode of “The Children’s Corner.” Originally, a bird was supposed to come out of the cuckoo clock that was drawn on the set wall. At the program’s launch party the night before, WQED Station Manager Dorothy Daniel presented Fred Rogers with a tiger puppet as a gift. He decided to use the tiger puppet instead of the bird, and named the puppet Daniel after the person who gave him the gift. And so it was a tiger who emerged out of a cuckoo clock!
It’s natural to look at someone super successful and assume that success was inevitable and that the path was free of doubt and dead ends. But that’s never the case, no matter how talented the individual. When Fred Rogers filmed his very first episode, there were no guarantees that kids would respond or that his efforts would make a difference beyond the local Pittsburgh region. It was an experiment in which failure was a very real possibility, maybe even probable.
Certainly, he must have had doubts. Who am I to attempt such a thing? To believe that anyone will care? To begin an undertaking in which I have so little experience?
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”–William Shakespeare
In Mister Rogers, I see a man who had a purity of motive, a person who pushed aside his doubts and was willing to try something that might not work. I am inspired by his ambition to make something good of this new thing called television, a medium he felt was falling well short of its potential.
Will you or I ever achieve icon status and impact the world as deeply as Mister Rogers? You never know. (I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to.) All we can do is follow in his footsteps as a human being who walked an uncertain path in uncharted territory, using every single tool he was given to try and make the world better.
Because trying to make the world better is always worth a try.
The best way to do it is by using everything you’ve got.