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kottke.org posts about Arielle Bernstein

The quiet empathy of Mr. Rogers lives on

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2016

Speaking of Mr. Rogers, Arielle Bernstein wrote about how the spirit of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood lives on in contemporary advice columns like Ask Polly (now a book!), Dear Sugar, and Ask Andrew W.K.

Rogers offered something different from other TV icons — he used his show as a platform to actually give voice to children: their fears, their hopes, their pains, their purest expressions of joy. Each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood started with the same reassuring sequence showing the host entering his home, slipping on one of his famous sweaters, and changing his work shoes for comfortable sneakers. In this simple world, every question — big or small — was seen as worthy of respect; every feeling — good or bad — was viewed without judgment. Rogers answered questions in an open-hearted manner, often drawing on his own experiences and speaking directly into the camera, as if personally addressing each member of his TV audience. In one episode, he drew a picture using crayons and reflected, “I’m not very good at it. But it doesn’t matter … It feels good to have made something.” In another, the camera lingered on one of Rogers’ dead fish with the curiosity and compassion of a child, imploring viewers to look, telling them that it’s okay to cry.

Today’s advice columnists carry on this same tradition of giving their readers the space to explore emotions they might feel they have to downplay, ignore, or hide from others. At a time when millions of adults are snapping up coloring books, and essays bemoan college students for seeking “safe spaces,” it might be tempting to see the gentler column as an outgrowth of a desire to prolong childhood. But the success of these columns points instead to the very grown-up need for settings where feelings are valued, rather than dismissed, and where the primary human response is compassion, rather than anger.