The truth behind Mister Rogers: We are all unique

By Dan Mollison

As we move through our lives, we continually redefine who we are and what we stand for. Our lives present us with many important questions that we must answer. What kind of people will we be? Which of our world’s problems will we care about? What kinds of work will we do, and who will benefit from it?

I have grappled with these questions throughout my nearly four years here, and as I prepare to enter the real world and put the values I’ve developed into practice, I have found inspiration from an unlikely source.

His name was Mister Fred Rogers, and last week marked the 4th anniversary of his death.

I haven’t thought too much about Mister Rogers since I was a child, when I was a regular “neighbor” of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” But I gained a new perspective on this warm figure of my childhood when I recently picked up a copy of his book for adults, entitled “The World According to Mister Rogers,” which features his life story and a compilation of quotes that explain his values.

Before I read this book, I revered Mister Rogers as some kind of extraordinary real-life superhero: a man who, by some benevolent fluke, was gifted with an inhuman level of patience and love for others. The diligence with which he ministered to millions of children as he carried out his 33-year television career was unreal, an unattainable feat for normal people like us.

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But in reading about his life I have discovered the real truth behind this man. Yes, Mister Rogers was an exceptional person, and yes, he should be admired for his contributions to the world. But if we put Mister Rogers on a pedestal, we deny the most important lesson he wanted us to embrace.

In his book, Mister Rogers writes that “our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has-or ever will have-something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

If we make him seem more important than us, we deny that we too can make contributions to the world equal to his. According to Mister Rogers, it is our ability to discover our own unique ways to express ourselves, and to help others that allow us to stand beside him and be the kind of leader that he was.

The path that Mister Rogers chose wasn’t easy, and as I read about his life it struck me to learn that he was once in the same position that many of us are in now: He had to choose between taking a safe, stable career path or to pursue a risky dream that those who were close to him did not fully understand. Had Mister Rogers not made the difficult decision to blaze his own path in life, he would not have been able to change our world on such a mass scale. I am facing a similar fork in my path, and I am grateful for the example that Mister Rogers has set, and for his role in helping me realize that this difficult position in life is innately human.

I found a final message from Mister Rogers to all of us adults posted on YouTube (search for “Mister Rogers goodbye”). This is what he had to say to us: “I’m just so proud of all of you who have grown up with (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood), and I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are; and what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe, and to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”

And it’s such a good feeling that even after his passing Mister Rogers’ legacy will continue to help us, nurture us, and uplift the next generation of our children.