When I saw this article on BBC News, it really caught my attention – because I completely agree with what Tom Hanks is saying.
“Cynicism has become the default position for so much of daily structure and daily intercourse. Why? Because it’s easy, and there’s good money to be made. But I think when Fred Rogers first saw children’s programming, he saw something that was cynical, and why would you put something that is cynical in front of a two or three-year-old kid? That you are not cool because you don’t have this toy? That it’s funny to see someone being bopped on the head?
“That’s a cynical treatment of the audience, and we have become so inured to that, that when we are met with as simple a message as ‘Hey you know what, it’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood!’ we get slapped a little bit. We are allowed, I think, to feel good. There’s a place for cynicism, but why begin with it right off the bat?” (Source).
Tom was discussing his latest film role with journalists at the Toronto Film Festival. In ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’, Tom becomes Fred Rogers, a much-loved children’s entertainer and creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, a television show that was broadcast in America for more than 30 years. I have seen parts of this show too and there are certain clips that will always stay with me.
Mister Rogers believed in kindness, acceptance, and empathy, a concept which, for children’s television at the time, seemed radical. It’s unbelievable. He treated children with respect and instead of making harsh, mocking children’s tv where people got ‘bopped’ on the head or covered in slime, he tackled issues like race equality. He used puppets and a fantasy world too to explore dilemmas. He recognised that love and empathy were needed in the world and made huge events like death, divorce, and disability, understandable for children.
Take a look for yourself…
A lot of what Mister Rogers offered was therapeutic – open, honest, empathy, and unconditional acceptance. And what Tom Hanks says about cynicism and how it has become our default, I agree with. It’s not ‘commercial’ or ‘interesting’ to be empathic, to allow vulnerability or to show love in the media and probably in a lot of areas of life – for any age group. We can see evidence of this everywhere, from our news to children’s TV, in games and on YouTube.
I think changing this narrative is important for younger generations. Children are generally accepting, curious, and affectionate and offering them cynicism as a way of seeing the world infects their perspective.
Take a look at Mister Rogers’ website to learn about his dedication to understanding childhood and how every aspect of his ‘television visit’ had a reason. Here are some of my favourite quotes from Fred Rogers…
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realise how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has- or ever will have- something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”
“You can think about things and make believe. All you have to do is think and they’ll grow.”
“Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.”