Fred Rogers derived a great deal of meaning from the number 143. This week being the 143rd OnHumaning essay, it felt like an appropriate moment to celebrate one of the most devoted life-long humanizers of the modern age. To Mr Rogers, the numerical phrase 1-4-3 was a stand in for the phrase "I love you" (I = 1 letter, love = 4 letters, you = 3 letters). Love was at the core of everything Mr Rogers created and shared with the world. It was the generous spirit he brought to his work.
When the documentary “Won't You Be My Neighbor?” came out in 2018, I saw it 5 times in the theater. And I cried every time. It is a very sweet telling of the life and works of a very sweet human being. The more I learn about Fred Rogers, the more I admire about. What stands out the most to me was his utter authenticity. He was the genuine article, as the saying goes. He always did things the way he thought things should be done. I try to emulate his example, being the change I want to see in the world.
I grew up on a steady diet of Mr Rogers and his neighborhood and I learned a lot of important lessons, often without even realizing it. One thing I learned was how important it is to recognize and appreciate each person's unique contribution to the world. No one individual has the exact same thoughts, feelings, or perspective as another person, and our coming together with those differences from a place of genuine curiosity is how we find common ground. And that's what makes the magic happen.
Another thing I appreciate about Mr Rogers is his subtlety. Until I saw the 2018 documentary, I had no idea he was a religious minister. It took me by complete surprise because most examples of religious leaders I see in the media are loud and obnoxious, dripping with volatile judgement for anyone who thinks or acts differently than whatever the one way they proclaim is righteous. Mr Rogers didn't preach like those people. He simply existed. And in so doing invited others to try on an existence of love and caring for on another as well.
I hope to be just a sneaky. I'd like to be an example in the way I move through the world that inspires other people to actively demonstrate care for everyone around them, especially people they don't know and may never meet. The things Fred Rogers had to say were similarly out of line with the prevailing societal winds of narcissism and personal safety by controlling others. I think one reason nobody shut him down was because he didn't seem threatening. He didn't arrive with an argument. Therefore there was nothing to argue against.
But his message was insidious. It seeped in through the cracks left in all our souls by the detrimental aspects of society. And it helped some of us fill those cracks with healing and knit ourselves back together. I didn't realize the breadth and extent of the balm I received for my soul from Mr Rogers and his neighborhood until after he died. Fortunately, it left its mark on me forever. Just like all the crappy parts of existing in modern society, I soaked up all the beautiful and healing love from all my exposure to Mr Rogers.
We should all be so lucky. I don't know that there are fewer examples of people like Fred Rogers today, but there are a very high number of people actively working to dehumanize other people. Maybe it's just because those jerks are so loud and there are so many of them in positions of power that they seem so many. But that's also the point: there aren't enough examples of the Fred Rogers way of being in positions of power in the world right now.
This week Uganda's parliament passed a bill making it illegal to identify as gay. It hasn't been officially signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni yet, but that seems quite likely given his vocal support thus far. Interviews with gay and trans Ugandans have been a feature in the news since the bill passed and the future these ordinary people see for themselves is truly horrifying. The blackmail and extortion has already begun and the ink hasn't even dried.
This morning three Ugandan women who identify as lesbians used false names to speak on the BBC program "Outside Source." One of them paraphrased the law in a perfect way: "I have a right to take away your right and you have no right to have a right." That is exactly what laws like this one in Uganda and the many similar anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in the US are saying. It makes absolutely no sense to legislate who anyone is allowed to be. But a lot of jurisdictions are doing it anyway.
A lot of people are also fighting back against these horrific and dehumanizing laws, but not enough of the people with the power to stop this madness are actually doing anything meaningful about it. Talking points are not enough. We need our governmental representatives to take action. Bold action. Immediate action. Real action. And we need them to keep doing it until the problem is all the way fixed. They need to keep chipping away at hatred, injustice, and bigotry until everyone is safe and taken care of.
To get there from where we are right now, we all need to take greater responsibility for each other. Not because we'll get something out of it (although we absolutely will), but because no one can thrive while their fellow human beings suffer from abuse and neglect right beside them. This is why wealthy and healthy people work so hard to distance themselves from the existence and effects of poverty. If they had to live among the suffering brought about by their lifestyle, they could not stand for it and remain whole. So they put up walls around their neighborhoods, eat in exclusive restaurants, and travel in private planes.
It doesn't have to be this way. Each of us wouldn't have to work so hard to meet our own needs if we could rely instead on our community to support us. If we pooled our collective efforts to ensure our collective survival. Just like adults are doing with children in Japan. There they see children as everyone's collective responsibility, so it's perfectly ordinary for very young children to do things like ride public transit or run errands by themselves. And if a child needs help while they are out and about, they can turn to any adult for assistance.
That's what we should be doing more of: taking care of each other. And the good thing about that is we don't have to wait for laws to be passed or the hearts and minds of bigots to change. We can just do it. Like Fred Rogers, we can live-out an example. May all our neighborhoods be like that of Mr Rogers. May we see each other as fellow passengers on the roller coaster of life. May we embody compassion for people whose life experience or struggle we cannot personally relate to, even if - and especially if - we don't quite understand it.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.