Mike Matthews photo

Mike Matthews

The 2019 election is over and we can look forward to a post-election euphoria driven by a respite in negative political television advertisements we have been torqued by for several weeks, before they start back full-force for the 2020 elections. I ration myself to one hour of television each evening, which consists of comparing radically different spins of basically the same news stories from various stations. The diverse ways the same story is reported by different news outlets can be staggering but is entertaining to me. When a commercial comes on, I will either switch stations or turn the volume off, but one commercial keenly caught my interest this week. It was a commercial for the upcoming movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” being released Nov. 22.

The movie stars Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers (”Mister Rogers”) and a press release indicates the movie is based on a true story of a jaded and skeptical Esquire journalist who is assigned to do a short story about Rogers. Although the reporter went into the interview believing Rogers was a phony and just a corny kids’ show host, he discovered he was a genuine and sincere visionary and the encounter changed the reporter’s life for the better. People may not be aware that Rogers had a strong child development background and was an ordained minister who got into television because he saw it as a powerful tool to spread his mission teaching love and compassion to children. The Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood program aired for over 30 years and was an inspiration to millions of children. The ripple effect continues today.

I have very fond memories of watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with my son in the early 1980s during my graduate school. As I was learning complex theories from Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers, I was learning more important life lessons from Fred Rogers, the most important being simplicity, service, compassion, and gratitude. One of my few regrets in my life was turning down an opportunity in 1999 to meet with Rogers and other counselors to discuss child development issues at his office in Pittsburgh. A colleague of mine took my spot and said it was one of the most powerful and productive meetings he ever attended. He stated all indications were Rogers was a man who was consistent and walked his talk.

The Lessons Fred Rogers taught are even more crucial today as parents and other adults in children’s lives sometimes spend more time on their smart phones than looking into the loving eyes of our children. Adults and kids have more choices today, but fewer guidelines on how to make positive, wholesome choices. I’m not a luddite, but our race to become more sophisticated with the latest technology often comes in conflict with the time necessary to raise healthy, functional children. Maybe it’s time to admit our culture has gotten at least a bit out of control and take steps to reclaim that power by evaluating our deepest values and creating some balance between ever-changing technology and universal principles of simplicity, service, gratitude, and direct connection with the ultimate source that never changes. Not “how do I download the latest app on my smartphone?” but a simple and deep question like “What’s life all about and how can I have a good one?” Something to think about.

Many of us are blindly following a shallow lifestyle because we are indoctrinated by our culture to be prolific consumers and because it seems most other people are going in that direction. It provides a quick payoff, but creates an unhealthy immediate-gratification society that is not sustainable. Mr. Rogers was a national treasure who modeled a simple and joyful lifestyle and faced the slings and arrows of his critics with grace and humor. His work was full of heart and was beautiful love in action. He taught that whatever your calling — writing, teaching, nursing, counseling, parenting or whatever your contribution — it is a true art to be practiced and done with a passion. Mr. Rogers provided true guidance in a confusing, changing world.

Children deserve more from television and more from the adults in their lives. There is nothing that can replace the value of focused, loving attention and being a simple, peaceful, truly happy adult who has the resilience to handle any situation and still maintain a positive and deep view about life. Mr. Rogers taught children how to manage their feelings and direct and control their responses to the vicissitudes of life and these lessons apply equally to adults. The movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” will be released a few days before Thanksgiving and I plan to “sweater-up” in a red knit cardigan sweater and take my grandson. I also plan to take a box of tissue for the tears that surely will be falling in the theater. Maybe because the realization of the sadness for the simple joy that they have lost, but maybe tears of joy for the fact they realize they can reclaim that joy and control if they so choose.

Mike Matthews is a retired teacher, counselor, and mental health administrator with a mission of creating a healthy and cohesive community.

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