We do not live in a kind world. You don’t need me to illustrate this point.
It’s difficult for me to know how to talk about Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the new documentary on Mr. Rogers, because what I’m tempted to do is to recount all of the lessons he taught us throughout the years. That we’re all unique people who are worthy of love. That it’s OK to be scared sometimes, or to be angry sometimes, or not to know what to feel sometimes. But what can I say that Mr. Rogers hasn’t already said better?
Or I could talk about the man himself, and his kindness, and goodness, and gentleness. But I’d prefer you just watch the movie, because to see Mr. Rogers inhabit these qualities is not something I can accurately describe with words.
So many of us speak so reverently of Fred Rogers because of all he taught us, but also because he genuinely seemed to be the person we all watched and learned from. If you’re looking to this movie to find out what Mr. Rogers was really like, to find out who he was when the mask came off, you’re going to discover something that you may have difficulty believing—there really was no mask. Mr. Rogers was exactly what he looked like.
Watching him again, all these years after I grew up watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” his sincerity is kind of overwhelming. We know in our hearts when someone is speaking from theirs. Mr. Rogers disarmed everyone, from small children to congressmen, not with guile or calculation, but with his genuine message of kindness, and beauty, and truth, in a world that has a difficult time with any of those things.
Perhaps appropriately, the thing I found most illuminating about Won’t You Be My Neighbor? isn’t something about Fred Rogers. It’s something about us. It’s that every one of us, deep down, still has that child inside of us. We’re all sometimes angry, or scared, or confused. And Mr. Rogers helped us understand that we can be any of those things, and still be worthy of love.
We do not live in a kind world. But there is true kindness in it.