Won’t You be My Neighbor?
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31,32)
Last week, Misty, Davidson and I saw a new documentary about the life of Fred Rogers. He is better known by the name “Mister Rogers”. Chances are if you have children or grandchildren or grew up since the late 60’s, you have seen “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. It’s the show he created to teach children about kindness, love, gentleness and respect for your neighbor.
His show was groundbreaking in many ways. He didn’t use loud noises, flashy graphics, crude humor or any of the other tools commonly used by other children’s programs. Instead, he used a quiet demeanor and gentle voice to reach his audience. He used hand puppets and supplied the voices for them. His show was slow paced and gentle. In so many ways, it shouldn’t have worked. It shouldn’t have lasted more than a season.
Yet, for over thirty years, Mr. Rogers produced his show. It was a huge success. Children of all ages, races and income levels watched it. They would line up for hours to meet Mr. Rogers when he made personal appearances. This quiet, unassuming man was a hero to children.
Why? Why did it work? It worked because children knew that Mr. Rogers cared about them. Kids can always tell a fake. They know when someone is just acting like they care about them. They knew Mr. Rogers cared. They also liked his teaching and example of treating others with kindness, respect and gentleness. Kids are not born mean. They are not born with harshness and cruelty. Children are not born as racists and bigots. They are taught these qualities by adults. Mr. Rogers taught children the direct opposite of what many of them were hearing and seeing from the adults in their lives. He taught them to love everyone regardless of race. He taught them that everyone deserves to be loved and treated with kindness. He taught them that we are all special because we are uniquely and wonderfully made. His Christian beliefs permeated his show from beginning to end. He taught children there was a better way than what they were seeing in the world and in some of their own homes.
Mr. Rogers believed that “one act of kindness” could change the world. He encouraged children to be kind and to always be the best “neighbor” they could be. In doing so, he was calling children to the best version of themselves and creating hope for the future.
As Christians, we are called to kindness. In Ephesians 4, we are told to “be kind to one another”. This isn’t a suggestion by Paul. This is a command. We are called to kindness. This world desperately needs kindness. We need kindness in our homes, neighborhoods, work places and schools. We need kindness in our church. We need kindness in our government officials. We need kindness as we reflect Christ.
Fred Rogers understood this and I am thankful for his legacy of kindness and his desire to share that kindness with the children of the world.
Practice kindness today. You just might change the world or at least your world!