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Chatterbox: A new neighborhood


“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a really popular show for decades and remains, still, on the air in a somewhat different format.

Most of us know Fred Rogers and his show. He helped kids understand and handle complicated feelings and fears, and he offered some way to understand and handle negative things. He undertook some of the most benign topics, and some of the toughest, still only showing kids the world was beautiful, if you let it be so.

One may not think that “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” could be controversial, but it was. While explaining things to and sharing everyday occurrences with the children in his audience, he groomed them for social change. Who could have known that, from his gentle neighborhood, he could leave such a mark on so many? Fred Rogers was a groundbreaker.

It’s odd that anyone could take umbrage at his quiet policies. He took heat for the gentlest of themes, including his teaching against prejudice. How can anyone take heat for advocating against prejudice? Those mourning him as a friend, father, grandfather and husband, actually had to deal with protesters at his funeral.

His show had a song for everything. One that particularly hit home for me was, again, for the kids, yet, subtly gave adults comfort and pause as well. Its words were, “What do you do with the ‘mad’ that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite?” Personally, I was comforted enough, as an adult, to just know that everyone got that angry sometimes.

Still, what do we do with the mad that we feel? Americans are really facing so many issues today and, though many are strictly personal, many are personal but political as well. Separating them from each other is not just difficult, in many cases, it’s impossible. It’s already changed families and ended friendships. Yet, there are numerous, more positive, ways to handle our frustration. There are areas in America, more than we even want to think about, in which we can respond with positivity and be a helpful hand.

Two weeks ago, we talked about how much zeal we have and how many of us feel we don’t get to use all of it. We talked about “Shirley Valentine” and how she had to retreat and re-evaluate her life to find another purpose for it. We can strive to do that. It’s not just a method toward personal accomplishment and fulfillment, it’s also a benefit to everyone we touch in our life and a method of progress for all, as well. That progress keeps mankind moving ahead, hopefully works far better than what we already have in place, and results in something that’s about more than just us.

There are so many things we can do with the mad that we feel. As kids, we can punch a pillow, cry, or talk to a grown-up about it. As adults, we can volunteer, donate, campaign and remain aware of what is going on around us which affects us and our future generations.

Many of us don’t realize that what we put our energy into and what we promulgate simply because we believe it to be right, may profoundly affect others. Nothing is ever just about us or our immediate circle of supporters. That’s why we must look at our actions in the big picture.

Last night, I watched a television special about Congress. It was laughable to me that newly elected officials were instructed to “sit down and learn the process.”

Most of us know that being new to a process precludes us from believing and preaching the same old rhetoric, that not knowing how a process works is the fastest route to thinking outside the box, instigating creative solutions and fixing what is broken in the process. Our ignorance of the stymied business as usual process and status quo makes it reflexive for us to simply follow our gut or our heart. Thus, by not knowing what can’t be done, we do it. We create those inroads and cut those new paths that are the fastest route to the necessary change. Seeing things through new eyes, like children, is the purest vision with the greatest clarity.

Fred Rogers went with a simple goal. His undertaking was to explain new things – hard things – in an uncomplicated way, with a pure heart, to his audiences’ young eyes. He did something he didn’t know shouldn’t be done.

A good life lesson, at any age.