COMMENTARY

Revisiting the "Neighborhood"

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If you don’t see but one more movie this summer, it should be “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”

The poignant documentary explores the life — and life’s work — of television’s Fred Rogers.

Much loved by three generations of children and their parents, Rogers’ unassuming personality helped to convince millions of children that they were loved — and deserving of love — for more than 30 years on his Public Broadcasting Service program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

I grew up watching his program in the 1970s. Through that show, I had another adult — one I trusted implicitly — to reinforce the importance of kindness, compassion, and treating everyone with respect. 

Sure, my parents did their best to teach me those things. But, something I learned raising my own children is that the more positive role models who can reinforce the values parents try to instill in their children, the better. 

And Mr. Rogers was possibly the most positive role model in my young childhood. Of course, I had loving parents. Of course, I had loving relatives. But Mr. Rogers never yelled at me. He never scolded me. He never punished me. He spoke softly and simply, helping me and millions of children learn that love and kindness are universal values and we are all deserving of love and kindness. 

He also helped to teach about difficult topics, like divorce, and famously, the crash of the shuttle Challenger in 1986 — something man school-aged children watched happen on live television. 

Rogers was maligned in later years, most famously by Fox News Channel hosts who called him an “evil man” for making children feel that they’re special. They said Rogers led the charge for a generation of entitled young people. 

I couldn’t disagree more. 

First, those who are now ages 40-50 grew up with Mr. Rogers on television. While each generation likes to proclaim the next as lazier than those who came before, I don’t see a lot of folks saying the generation that turns 50 this year are a lazy bunch of entitled “me first” people. 

Whatever the Fox hosts’ complaints are about people feeling entitled, I don’t believe Mr. Rogers had anything to do with it… and I’ll do them one better. 

It’s often said that guns have little to do with the youth violence and school shootings that have occurred at a greater and greater rate in recent years. 

I wonder if the current generation, who’ve been raised in a world of children’s television that features more violence and less love and kindness, couldn't have benefited from a daily visit to "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." Maybe things would be a little better if they had.

Every child should be loved. Every child deserves love, kindness and compassion.

The world lost a great teacher, and children lost a great advocate, when Fred Rogers died in 2003. 

A trip to the theater might help put all that in perspective, serving as a reminder of just how important and influential Mr. Rogers was. In fact, we’re giving away five pairs of tickets to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” at the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline starting this Thursday. Visit our website hillcountrynews.com to enter the drawing. 

Bring tissues. You just might need them. 

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