What’s The Problem With Mr. Rogers’ Advice?

After the shooting in Orlando, people posted over and over the quote from Mr. Rogers where he has observed tragedy and his mother advises him thus,

“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Now, I love Mr. Rogers. He was a big part of my youth and I cherish the gentle lessons that he and his puppets taught. To be kind. To be a good friend and neighbor. To be aware of those around you and value each person’s usefulness, be they a police officer or the person who runs a machine at a factory. He had great lessons to teach us.

The problem comes, however, when we are unwilling to BE a helper. Fred Roger’s mother’s advice is only useful if she herself was willing to do a share. There is precious little online about Nancy Rogers, but the one piece you find, besides this quote, is that she knitted the cardigans that are such icons on the show. It was through this act that her son would see her sharing her love and birthed from that love was his ability to so wonderfully communicate love to others. It was the clear communication of that message which raised him from his youth into someone who didn’t just gripe about how much he hated tv, which he did, but to become a person who would step into the very thing he hated and make an effort to make it better from within.

I in no way want to minimize the important role his faith played in his life. He was schooled to be a minister, so obviously this was a big part of who he was. But I want to point out to the very little we do know of Nancy Rogers, one example where she is telling her child to look for a helper, and another where she is actively being a helper herself.

Proverbs 22:6 tells us “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (KJV)

This is not just by instruction but by active behavioral example.

If a child sees a parent reading, has time where they are read to, and has books made available to them, they will read. Any school teacher will tell you that the children of parents who are involved in their education, who come to conferences, who volunteer in the class, who invest in their education, those children will have an advantage. The child sees the that education matters to their parent, and so education matters to them.

If a child sees a parent serving the church and others, are brought alongside their parent to serve, and are given opportunity for service on their own, they will serve. I can only imagine any minister whose been in the church for a career, would tell you that those most likely to serve faithfully are the children of those who served faithfully.

Don’t imagine that your child will just easily develop the willingness to be a helper, a volunteer, someone who takes time away from what might be flashier and less costly, if you, yourself, are unwilling to do those things. 

And stay your loud applause for those who only volunteer during times of tragedy. If I go to stand in the gap with angel wings on, to block hateful words, but every other day of my life I don’t give a second thought to doing the work of angels to my neighbors, my impact is minuscule at best. If I post moving articles and pictures on Facebook about mental health and gun violence, but I make no effort to take time out of my busy life to do what I can do, go to a class on gun safety, volunteer with a program that serves people who struggle with mental health, intervene in the life of at risk youths, my social media action is useful only for eye-rolls and sighs.

If you want to impact our world for the future, impact a child, and do so by impacting yourself. If you want to raise a helper, be a helper. Every day. Be like Fred Rogers and be kind, be a good friend and neighbor and see and value those around you, no matter what their job is.

Be like Fred Rogers.

Or be like Nancy, and raise a generation of Fred Rogers.

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