Rev. Fred Rogers is one of the greatest people who has ever lived. Before I get into a few reasons why I believe that, here is a manly picture of Mister Rogers testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications:
No, he isn’t tearing a telephone book in half or bench-pressing a bunch of weight, but do you have the courage to testify before the Senate because of what you believe? The story behind this image, and event, is amazing, as Fred Rogers did a huge amount to sway a Congressional committee and save PBS’s budget. He does this the same way he does everything – through the kind of gentle persistence that lets water cut through stone:
It is an easy thing, to confuse gentleness with weakness. And there was certainly nothing about Fred Rogers that cut a traditionally masculine figure – singing while he changed into loafers on TV; wearing sweaters his mother knitted for him; playing make-believe with puppets. His was a kind of strength you could only see over time – the strength of integrity, of consistency of vision and character.
Not only was Fred Rogers committed to improving the lives of children, he was committed to speak unflinchingly to those children about topics that most parents shy away from with their own kids. He spoke to children about death, and grief, and war, and divorce, in the same voice he spoke about what a postal worker is, or what various characters were up to in the Land of Make-Believe. I challenge anyone, man or woman, to do that, on national television, for decades.
Children sense fear and hesitation. They can often sniff out a fraud much more quickly than adults can, though they probably can’t articulate what it is that they’re seeing. When a child falls to the ground, she will often look up at an adult she trusts before she decides whether to cry or not. She can see, immediately, in the adult’s face if what happened is serious or not. And if the adult is fearful, then the child assumes something bad happened and they cry. If the adult is calm, then the child often just gets up and keeps playing.
Now try doing that with millions of children you can’t even see.
Gentle, constant pressure can leave a deep mark on the world. Fred Rogers ended his life living for the same values that shaped his career from the very beginning. He fought, in his own quiet and relentless way, for a better world. He made his own life about making the lives of others better. He ennobled others; reminded them, reminded us, of our better selves.
His ideas and his convictions are still as radical today as they were when he was alive, when his show was being watched by millions of children. The idea that people are of immeasurable value, in and of themselves, totally apart from how others view them, or how they have been treated, or whether they are good consumers, or good workers – we still do not understand what Mister Rogers understood.
We are still not the people he believed we could be.
For demonstrating, over the course of his life, the power that lies in gentleness and patience, Rev. Fred Rogers is today’s Profile in Positive Masculinity.