If we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable—we will have done a great service for mental health.
~ Mister Rogers
Since Governor Romney confidently stated he will cut PBS funding, in front of Jim Lehrer no less, an uproar has emerged. There are numerous Facebook postings and tweets—many of them from Big Bird saying, “Oh hell naw!”
On my news feed, my cousin posted a video of Mister (Fred) Rogers speaking to the United States Senate. It is of Rogers graciously sharing his commitment to children and his concern about what they see on television. His goal: to receive the 20 million dollars of funding for PBS that Richard Nixon wanted to deny.
As I listen to him speak on the video, his voice comforting and familiar, I could not help but remember this was the only human being who told me something I felt deep inside of me: I am special. Here he was, this man sitting on a chair, changing his shoes and singing to me as I sat “criss-cross applesauce” staring up at a screen: You’ve made this day a special day by just you being you. And I like you just the way you are.
As I listen to him speak, as an adult and a parent, I am inspired by his wisdom. He was a man that understood the inner drama of childhood, and not only this, developed a curriculum to support this inner drama using television.
This curriculum encompassed puppets, songs and of course exchanges and outings with Mr. McFeely, the mailman. In the video he shares a song that he wrote: What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite.
Gosh, I can relate to this as an adult. Imagine how children could—and how we did—as children. So mad we could bite. Not only did he speak to what we might be feeling inside, he gave good thoughts about how we can manage these feelings: Punch a bag. Pound some clay.He also gave a vision:
Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can—for a girl can someday be a lady, and a boy can someday be a man.
Mister Rogers was the voice of wisdom and compassion for children whose parents were not. Whose society was not. And, we still, perhaps more so, have this need today.
Had President Nixon gotten his way and denied the funding, I would not have the memory of a man who reminded me of who I am, and therefore, maybe I would have never remembered.
Watching this video, I wonder how many politicians today would be open to Mister Rogers as Senator Pastore was. He said to Rogers, “I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy and this is the first time I’ve had goosebumps.” He was moved by him. He wanted to see his program. He listened to him, and gave him his funding.
Who would do this today? Who would move through their arrogance and toughness and see the heart of a man’s honest mission and the need for a child to feel special?
If we don’t have voices like Fred Rogers—and the flexibility and openness like that of Mr. Pastore—we’re at risk of continuing to lose the mental health of our children. There are five-year-olds on anti-depressants.
Rogers understood that our overall mental health begins in the home, and although this weight primarily falls on the shoulders of the parents, we as a society have a responsibility as well. We do this with our vote. We do this by what we do and don’t watch on television. What we consume and what we don’t.
We do this by remembering what Mister Rogers told us: we are likable just because we are who we are.
When we know this, we spread that knowing within our homes and beyond.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger