A few weeks ago, I mentioned in the homily that I saw the documentary about Fred Rogers, AKA Mr. Rogers. It was entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. It was a staple of my television viewing experience throughout my youth. I knew there was something attractive about Mr. Rogers’ approach to his show, but I did not understand the depth of his wisdom or his love for people.
Upon watching the documentary, I awakened to the great lessons he was trying to teach me, now on a more mature level. And these lessons are still needed for adults today.
One of the profound lessons that Mr. Rogers taught was about feelings. Many times, people will respond to feelings in one of two ways: Either, they try to suppress a feeling, or they believe they must act upon that emotion. We often allow ourselves only these two options. However, Mr. Rogers offers a third way to respond to emotions, which is much more profound and helpful. In 1969, Mr. Rogers testified before congress to defend the budget for public television. The congressman asked Mr. Rogers about his show (which the congressman had not seen). And Mr. Rogers said that he taught children about many human experiences, including feelings. And here is what Mr. Rogers said, “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.”
Mr. Rogers teaches that feelings are “mentionable and manageable.” We all experience feelings and they are found throughout the Bible: Happiness (Isaiah 12:3), Sadness (John 11:35), Anger (Ephesians 4:26), etc. Feelings are very mentionable. But not only are they mentionable (and here is the genius of Mr. Rogers), they are manageable. We can control what we do when we experience a feeling that we know is not leading us to a good choice. We are not robots who must act out every feeling that we experience. Rather, God has given us the ability to choose our actions and we must choose to respond to our feelings in ways that are good.
To drive home his point, Mr. Rogers wrote a song to help children (and adults) remember this truth: “What do you do with the mad that you feel? 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.”
Found in this simple song is a very powerful tool for living our lives as Jesus calls us to act. We all experience feelings, and we can be the ones to choose how to respond to those feelings. That is the genius of Mr. Rogers who knew the love of God in his own life, for he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. So the next time we experience a feeling, let us remember this lesson from Mr. Rogers, acknowledge the feeling to Jesus, and allow Jesus to guide us in how we should react to this feeling. Then we will have that very good feeling knowing we have chosen to do what God would want us to do...and that feels very good.
NB: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is rated PG-13, so parents, please view the movie first and then discern if your children are of an appropriate age to watch this documentary.
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl