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The Touching, Lasting Legacy of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Many of us remember the public television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which aired from 1968 through 2001.

Fred Rogers’ message still rings true, as evidenced by the critical and box office success of the documentary, Won’t You be My Neighbor?  Fred Rogers had a unique understanding of what young children need and want—and he saw this long before it was supported by psychological and neurological research. One of the many moving scenes in the documentary is of “Mister Rogers” making the case for public television funding in front of a Washington DC Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator John Pastore:

“This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.’ And I feel that 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. I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger ― much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire.”

Pastore noted, “I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goose bumps in the last two days.”

Rogers responded, “Well I’m grateful, not only for your goose bumps, but for your interest in our kind of communication.”

Rogers then asked Pastore: “Could I tell you the words of one of the songs, which I feel is very important?” he asked. “This has to do with that good feeling of control which I feel that children need to know is there.”

He then recited the song:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? (And that first line came straight from a child.) When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop, when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

Pastore, who had never seen Rogers’ show, did not hesitate with his response. “I think it’s wonderful… I think it’s wonderful.  Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

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