Remembering Mr. Rogers

I have really enjoyed reading about Fred Rogers this week.

A few recent articles have been inspired by an upcoming movie, A Beautiful Day, which will release in November 2019.   The movie centers on the relationship Mr. Rogers developed with a reporter who profiled him in Esquire.

I grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but I haven’t thought about what that show meant for a long time.  It’s been fascinating to revisit and learn more about Fred Rogers.

I particularly enjoyed this profile in The Atlanticwhich showed how he would transform a statement into a message for his show.  An elegant example of how to simplify a message, frame it to be positive, remove anything prescriptive or exclusionary, and draw a bridge to why it matters.

Here is the process from the article, which I found fascinating:

  • “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. ​​​​​​
  • “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
  • “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, “Ask your parents where it is safe to play.”
  • “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
  • “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
  • “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

If you’re more interested in Mr. Rogers lessons for grownups, here is his 2002 commencement speech at Dartmouth, where he gave the gift of a minute of silent gratitude to the entire class.  I also enjoyed this twitter thread, describing how unusual his philosophy and theology really was.

I hope these ideas encourage you.  Have a good week!

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