“It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.”
by Fred Rogers
Forty five years ago on February 19, 1968, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted. Ten years ago on February 27th, Mr. Rogers left our neighborhood forever. With him went one of the best champions of children, and an advocate for a kinder way of being.
The first time I saw Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood I was a bit surprised, I admit. After the razzle dazzle of Sesame Street, there was this slow-paced show with a low tech set and impossibly gentle man putting on what my mother would have called ‘play clothes,’ his sweater and sneakers. At first I found the show sweet, but a little sappy. It took my children to convince me. They watched Big Bird and Cookie Monster while they played. But when Mr. Rogers came on, they stopped, sat down, and hung on his words, even my moderately hyper-active son.
I think at first I thought the kind man was Fred Rogers’ TV persona. No one in my acquaintance was that mild mannered. But he was. In fact he is noted for having said, “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.” And kids knew that about him. They knew he was real, just like he knew them, what they feared, what made them mad or sad. And he spoke in ways that affirmed their abilities while he assured them that, no matter what, he always liked them just the way they were.
Last week I wrote on affirmations and it occurred to me that was what Mr. Roger’s Show was all about. He believed in the best in our kids, and in the best of us, and he made us believe in us.
When I was a social worker, one of my most powerful tools was something I called Positive Attribution. Part of my job was to help people change their lives and redefine themselves. I would interpret who they thought they were in the best possible way, present that picture to them, and help them see themselves in that light.
Most of the time they began to live up to that picture, instead of down to the expectations of their critical spouses, disapproving parents, or abusive partners. I found out in living color what Fred Rogers showed me in black and white. People need approval like children need to be cared for, like plants need light and water… in order to survive. And if I could believe their marriage would make it, or that their lives could change, then they could too.
I think part of my approach came from what I had absorbed from Mr. Rogers while he talked to my children. Another part came from a saying I came upon once that has served as an anchor for me in my work and my life: “I met someone who said I had to change, and I didn’t change. I met someone who said, ‘I like you just the way you are,’ and then I changed.”
I don’t know if Mr. Rogers also read that quote, but I do know he lived it. So in honor of that sentiment and this gentle man, I want you to know I do like you just the way you are. You can be who you want to be, your honest self. It will be a gift to all who know you. Believe it. Believe in yourselves. It truly is a beautiful day in your neighborhood, a great day to be alive…especially when you’re wearing your play clothes.
- Mr. Rogers ‘hated’ TV, so he fixed it 45 years ago (theclicker.today.com)
- It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhod (newgrandmas.com)
- 15 Interesting Mr. Rogers Facts (todayifoundout.com)