My Friend Mister Rogers
November 7, 2019 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Tom Junod, The Atlantic: My Friend Mister RogersI first met him 21 years ago, and now our relationship is the subject of a new movie. He’s never been more revered—or more misunderstood.
posted by tonycpsu (29 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
It was not a political answer, because it was an answer to everything. And yet from that email—from that everything—one can hazard a guess about Fred’s answers to the questions shouted at Pam Bondi in Tampa. It’s obvious that he would have been saddened by our country’s continued refusal to provide health care to all its citizens. It’s obvious that he would have been devastated by the cruelties committed in our name at the border, and shaken by our lack of mercy in all things, particularly our policies toward helpless children. But even more obvious is what his position would have been regarding the civility debate. Fred was a man with a vision, and his vision was of the public square, a place full of strangers, transformed by love and kindness into something like a neighborhood. That vision depended on civility, on strangers feeling welcome in the public square, and so civility couldn’t be debatable.

Well, then, all due fairness to Fred, it's a weak and meaningless notion. Shaming these people work, they don't deserve civility, and Bondi's crocodile tears about being yelled at while destroying the lives of others behind a facade of beaurocracy are laughable. When people like Bondi actually start to show civility to others, then they can have the favor returned, and maybe there can be a discussion of forgiveness.
posted by codacorolla at 9:50 AM on November 7 [11 favorites]


Takes a careful reading to catch the "misunderstood" portion of the title, but the key to it is when Mr. Junod describes protesters shouting at a politician (Pam Bondi, who was attacking the ACA) outside a showing of Won't you be my neighbor?.
    It’s obvious that [Fred] would have been saddened by our country’s continued refusal to provide health care to all its citizens. It’s obvious that he would have been devastated by the cruelties committed in our name at the border, and shaken by our lack of mercy in all things, particularly our policies toward helpless children. But even more obvious is what his position would have been regarding the civility debate. Fred was a man with a vision, and his vision was of the public square, a place full of strangers, transformed by love and kindness into something like a neighborhood. That vision depended on civility, on strangers feeling welcome in the public square, and so civility couldn’t be debatable. It couldn’t be subject to politics but rather had to be the very basis of politics, along with everything else worthwhile. Indeed, what makes measuring Fred’s legacy so difficult is that Fred’s legacy is so clear. What he would have thought of Pam Bondi’s politics is one thing; what he would have thought of Pam Bondi is quite another, because he prayed for the strength to think the same way about everyone. She is special; there has never been anyone exactly like her, and there never will be anyone exactly like her ever again; God loves her exactly as she is.
The article as a whole is beautifully written. Lots of amazing revelation in there---my favorite part is when Fred addresses school shootings. Warning: don't read if you have a meeting to go to shortly in which red eyes might be a distraction!
posted by TreeRooster at 9:51 AM on November 7


Jinx, codacorolla!

I think it convinced me a bit more of the value of civility, but I admit that the question is about efficacy and outcomes: what course of action best helps the hurting children? Maybe there is a time for casting stones---but also maybe we need both kinds of activists, Rogers included, to avoid diminishing returns.
posted by TreeRooster at 9:56 AM on November 7 [3 favorites]


One thing seems certain to me: harassing Pam Bondi, or Stephen Miller, or Kirstjen Nielsen, won't have any positive effect on them. It might make those yelling feel better, briefly, but everything we know about human behavior tells us it won't change the targets of the yelling.

Does that mean it shouldn't be done? I don't know. "They can have the favor returned" sound a lot like an eye for an eye, though.

We have examples of people managing to reach--somehow--Klan members and Phelps family members, and it's always with something like grace and undeserved kindness. As hard as it is to imagine love having an impact on Sarah Huckabee Sanders, it's marginally less difficult than imaging righteous hatred having an impact. Maybe it's .00000001 instead of 0, but it's something.

I don't know that I'm strong enough to do it. I don't think I could be anything but angry face-to-face. But better people than me might be able to, and that's the only way forward I see that doesn't lead to an even nastier future.
posted by pwinn at 10:29 AM on November 7 [4 favorites]


I mean, Mr. Rogers' views on civility were inextricable from his deeply held faith. I respect that faith and I admire it, because I doubt any of us, Christian or not, could deny that he walked the walk and talked the talk. If there was one Christian we could hold out to Jesus Christ himself to prove, "hey, your followers didn't entirely fuck things up, there are still people who got what you were talking about," Fred Rogers would be on top of the list.

To me, that makes his take on civility sort of unassailable. Because it's not about efficacy or justice or maintaining the status quo, it's simply and purely about faith, and love. Mr. Rogers' radical kindness was not easy then, and it isn't easy now. It's easy for us to say that certain people don't deserve civility and kindness, because they fail to be civil and kind themselves, but Mr. Rogers' faith demanded that he offer kindness and love and civility to everybody. I don't need to believe in God as Mr. Rogers did to find value and beauty in the way he lived his life.

I certainly don't have it in me to extend much civility or love or faith to the amoral Republican monsters whose every choice harms me or people I care about, but then, I'm not Christian. I have understanding of said Republican monsters and those who support them, but that's about it. I'm guessing a lot of us are in the same boat. And that's okay. We don't have to share Mr. Rogers' faith. But there's still a value in that faith being a beacon, there's still value in thinking "What Would Mr. Rogers Do" and emulating that to the best of our ability whenever and wherever we can. It just doesn't have to be the only way, nor should it be.
posted by yasaman at 10:35 AM on November 7 [51 favorites]


One thing seems certain to me: harassing Pam Bondi, or Stephen Miller, or Kirstjen Nielsen, won't have any positive effect on them. It might make those yelling feel better, briefly, but everything we know about human behavior tells us it won't change the targets of the yelling.

The point of the yelling isn't always to change the direct target. It's to demonstrate to people negatively impacted by (e.g.) the lack of health insurance that they are seen and known and that other people have their backs, and to make other people think twice before attempting to tread the same path as Pam Bondi et al. Basically, protesting is another way to set and enforce boundaries for what is societally acceptable. It's not "an eye for an eye," unless you think that being yelled at is equivalent to not having healthcare.
posted by zebra at 10:38 AM on November 7 [30 favorites]


One thing seems certain to me: harassing Pam Bondi, or Stephen Miller, or Kirstjen Nielsen, won't have any positive effect on them. It might make those yelling feel better, briefly, but everything we know about human behavior tells us it won't change the targets of the yelling.

This is, perhaps, the most enraging thing to be about this essay, and the vaunted ideas of decorum and civility in general: it's a self-centric view of how politics work, and it's not an ideological position so much as it's an aesthetic one.

I actually don't particularlly care about what each of these people believe. Even if Pam Bondi has a change of heart, then there are a thousand more of her ready and willing to take that same place. I care about what they do. What they do is enabled through political and social systems that are established through who has access to power. You can smile and understand all you want - it doesn't give you power. Do you think Stephen Miller got into the position to draft his policies for concentration camps through measured understanding of people he disagreed with (the disagreement, of course, being whether or not America is a white ethno-state)? Shaming makes these people afraid to go out in public, it reduces their political capital, and it shows to others that their ideas are not valuable and should be mocked. It's a show of power, not a negotation tactic.

It's especially galling that he mentions Ellen as a prime example, since Ellen (and GWB's revival in the popular press) is nothing but the aesthetic of civility in service of enforcing a neoliberal status quo. It's feeling good because of what's in an image rather than what that image entails, and telling people never to ask for too much lest they look impolite.

To me, that makes his take on civility sort of unassailable. Because it's not about efficacy or justice or maintaining the status quo, it's simply and purely about faith, and love. Mr. Rogers' radical kindness was not easy then, and it isn't easy now. It's easy for us to say that certain people don't deserve civility and kindness, because they fail to be civil and kind themselves, but Mr. Rogers' faith demanded that he offer kindness and love and civility to everybody. I don't need to believe in God as Mr. Rogers did to find value and beauty in the way he lived his life.

This is a fair point. Rogers was intentionally apolitical (as the article itself mentions, and them seems to studiously ignore). However, the apparent drives of this article are political. It's a chiding reprimand to the "progressive left" (note, that the author spends the most time talking down to the left, as opposed to say the literal fucking Nazis that the left is opposing) asking them to find common ground. I can respect the Christian ideals of Rogers' beliefs, and think they're excellent things to teach to children. However, when you enter the realm of politics and power, those ideals have their limits. This is classic Atlantic click-bait to reach out to comfortable liberals and let them know that their foolish aesthetic of centrism is actually quite sensible.
posted by codacorolla at 10:47 AM on November 7 [27 favorites]


Tom Junod is a marvelous stylist as always, but I can't quite keep myself from hearing the sneering arrogance in his voice, the just-slightly-unmasked contempt he has for people who dare see the world even slightly differently than he does.
posted by rorgy at 10:56 AM on November 7 [1 favorite]


If I were religious, I'd start a cadre of Neighborly Protestors who showed up at events where terrible people were speaking terrible things and we'd all make sure they knew we were praying for them to do better, praying with love and hope, because we need them to do better.

We could all wear cardigans.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:57 AM on November 7 [24 favorites]


Shaming these people work, they don't deserve civility...

Everyone deserves civility. The very article is a direct testament to showing what transformation that simple act - consistently applied - is capable of producing in an individual person.

And the secondary beauty is that the more civility becomes the norm, the more aberrant and unacceptable the alternate appears. I have seen this happen in small civic groups where the core are individuals trained in non-violent communication: a group of people treating the angry person with dignity rather quickly de-escalated their rhetoric and in many cases got them to productively engage in the conversation.
posted by Silvery Fish at 12:04 PM on November 7 [5 favorites]


As everyone is noting, it is a strange article because it turns something possibly quite profound into a hokey plea for "civility." Similarly it seems strange to me that Junod dwells on Saving Private Ryan and whether Rogers would have served in the military when he could have wondered where he stood on civil disobedience to advance the Civil Rights movement or the decidedly uncivil anti Vietnam War protests, both of which were very much issues of Rogers's adulthood. It seems unlikely that Rogers would have been against Martin Luther King or his non-violent, but not entirely civil, methods, whether or not he marched next to him.

Civility may give us the the space to come together in the public square, but it doesn't give an answer to how to deal with those who want to go around and smash things and inflict cruelty. Rogers's solution may well have been an appeal to a higher power: I'm sure he would have prayed for Pam Bondi, just as it seems probable that as a teenager he would have prayed for Hitler, not out of a sense of civility, but as a way of effecting a supernatural change of heart. Many pacifist religious people, MLK included, while believing in the power of prayer, don't think that prayer by itself is enough to effect necessary change in the struggle against evil; by its framing and omissions the article leaves the impression that Fred Rogers might not be among them, but I am distrustful of that implication.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:17 PM on November 7 [5 favorites]


Everyone deserves civility.

Nah.
posted by Etrigan at 12:25 PM on November 7 [9 favorites]


> As everyone is noting, it is a strange article because it turns something possibly quite profound into a hokey plea for "civility."

Does it? I saw it more as Junod recounting Rogers' pleas for civility without endorsing them per se. Junod seems much more skeptical.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:32 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


He's not recounting past pleas for civility, he's imagining present ones: "But even more obvious is what his position would have been regarding the civility debate." And then turning them into a call to present action (nominally for Junod, but by implication for all of us): "Tell me I’m a good man. Tell me I’ve lived a good life, then tell me what to do now."
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:50 PM on November 7


Everyone deserves civility.

Nah.


But isn't that what so many of our conversations here are about? That there are groups of people amongst us that consistently and systematically fail to treat others with civility; refuse to acknowledge the right-ness and dignity of others?

You don't get that without doing that. People don't change because someone says they are bad. People change when someone, is essence, says from a space of compassion and dignity, "you are better than this act."
posted by Silvery Fish at 1:01 PM on November 7 [10 favorites]


People change when someone, is essence, says from a space of compassion and dignity, "you are better than this act."

I mean, I guess we are quibbling about the term 'everyone' but I'd say that not everyone changes, that those who do incite for change generally work around those most resistant to it (giving civility to the less passionate but silent majority), and leave those who advocate against them behind. What does "you are better than this act" in the face of those who advocate against you even mean? I mean if all issues could be solved with 'mom scolding' like that, then we'd be in a better place as a society.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:00 PM on November 7 [2 favorites]


"big has to start little"

words to live by
posted by chavenet at 2:04 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


Everyone deserves civility.
So here's the thing -- there's a distressingly powerful bloc within our country right now (not just our country, mind, but very definitely here as well..) who are cynically and systematically weaponizing what were previously commonly accepted principles and civic virtues and using those weapons in the service of a destructive agenda that some of us honestly believe is an existential threat to our freedom and possibly, ultimately, to the security of the world, if unchecked. I know to some that still sounds kookily over-dramatic but if you've been paying attention at all for the past several years hopefully you can at least admit that those of us who take this threat this seriously are not doing so solely because we're inclined to tinfoil headgear. Anyway, please accept as a given that there are people who sincerely believe we are engaged in a struggle whose outcome is uncertain and where the stakes are the highest imaginable.

Now, as concerns civility and other issues.. I'm sure a motivated person could find examples from "both sides" but overwhelmingly, consistently, and predictably there is one side of the political spectrum that is constantly and in bad faith using these principles as a cudgel to advance their appalling agenda. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders complains about incivility you can be confident that it is not out of any genuine commitment to civility or sincere regret for its decline, just as when Ben Shapiro or Milo Yiannopoulous pontificate about "free speech" it is decidedly not out of any love for universal freedom -- only their own, if that. And when Devin Nunes, Mark Meadows, and Jim Jordan shed crocodile tears over the rule of law and "due process" only a fool believes that to be their genuine concern -- even the most ignorant of their supporters generally understand their actions to be a performance no more genuine than professional wrestling.

So what are we to do with these values, then? Do we abandon civility or commitment to long-held principles such as commitment to universal freedom of speech and the protections of due process and the rule of law? No, clearly, not, but neither am I interested in trying to have a discussion about them with anyone who cannot first acknowledge the reality that many exist who are deliberately taking advantage of our commitment to civic virtues, using them against us and at the same time despoiling the very virtues for which they demand our continued respect. Until someone can admit to that part of the current situation and propose any way for people of good will to defend themselves and deal with it, what can there honestly be to talk about?
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:16 PM on November 7 [29 favorites]


Fred Rogers's faith is incredibly important to this story, as yasaman points out above.

I think the tendency here on MetaFilter--and my tendency, too--is to focus on what achieves results for society--what concrete good we can do, what policies that bend towards justice we can help make happen. So ends can justify means. There is such a thing as fighting, and killing, in a just war; there's such a thing as incivility and hostility and venom that lead to lesser suffering.

We're making an earthly calculus, and a utilitarian calculus, where Rogers would likely be trying to emulate divine grace, or at least act deontologically. It's a choice based on a specific conception of good that is removed from politics.

It's a choice that I can respect for him, but one that I think is dangerous to try to universalize. But then, I'm not a pacifist, and I don't believe in divine grace.*

*[I think that people do need to have some faith in humanity in order to operate in good faith and work towards a greater good that the individual may not live to see, but that's somewhat beside the point; I just didn't want to suggest that I think that rejecting Fred Rogers's philosophy requires nihilism.]
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:30 PM on November 7 [7 favorites]


BTW, here's the original 1998 Esquire article by the man who wrote the article linked above as a profile of Fred Rogers. Written by an author who was known for being a snarky asshole writing articles. That's what he produced. And meeting Fred changed him for the rest of his life. Read both the articles in full.

Surely if the world were filled with a zillion more people who were trying to emulate Fred, everything would change!
posted by hippybear at 9:34 PM on November 7 [3 favorites]


That article felt oddly meandering and yet repetitive; it felt like it had no core, almost no internality. I didn't feel much like I knew anything after reading it that I hadn't known before, and I'm not especially knowledgeable about Mr. Rogers. The author sorta hints at the import of their friendship but it feels pietistic rather than pious, if that makes sense, toward Mr. Rogers' goodness. The story written here feels thin. I don't feel like the author really even makes a convincing case that Fred Rogers is or was particularly poorly-understood.

I honestly don't know what to make of it.
posted by clockzero at 10:02 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


Everyone deserves civility.

Nah.

But isn't that what so many of our conversations here are about? That there are groups of people amongst us that consistently and systematically fail to treat others with civility; refuse to acknowledge the right-ness and dignity of others?


And yet, those people are never the ones who are told “Be civil!” No, it’s always the ones who go just a little over some invisible line when they demand that their right-ness and dignity be acknowledged. Pam Bondi isn’t told by the chatterati that she is uncivil; no, that is reserved for the people who would dare to heckle her at a movie premiere, the people who presume to tell their betters what they think of them to their faces rather than via carefully worded and vetted op-eds and speeches that politely, civilly inform them that they do not count quite as much, sorry, nothing to be done about it, it’s just the way the election turned out.

So, when people make quote-principled-unquote objections to the plague of incivility sweeping our otherwise kind and benevolent society, I. Say. Nah.
posted by Etrigan at 3:40 AM on November 8 [11 favorites]


Screaming at Scott Pruitt and Kirsten Nielsen IS an act of civility and comes from a belief that democratic peaceful protest can still work, instead of tar and feathering them for dumping poison in the environment and abusing children.
Flipping off Trump while riding a bicycle IS civility. Doing a peaceful protest at Tucker Carlson’s house to condemn him is civility, because the alternative would be to bust down the door (and of course he outright lied and said that’s what they were doing)
posted by cricketcello at 4:51 AM on November 8 [8 favorites]


I think it's okay for the world to have people who work for good in different ways. There doesn't have to be one single way of being.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:00 AM on November 8 [7 favorites]


[Catching up this morning, a couple comments removed. Talking about civility in the context of the article is fine; coming in here to explicitly complain about unnamed factions on MetaFilter doing civility wrong is doing it in the wrong place for starters and pretty far into axe-grinding territory to boot. hippybear, I need you to stop doing that sort of thing period, it's a bad pattern.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:32 AM on November 8


It was a long time ago. The early 80s I recall. I am not a skier, going real fast down a mountain not in control never really made me happy. But, I was invited with a bunch of friends to go up to a Vermont ski house for the weekend. There would be about 12 of us there. I knew about 9 of them. One of the ones I did not know was a friend of a friend who attended Carnigie Mellon University with him. I was introduced to him by his first name which I forget now. Well off some of my friends went to the mountain. About 4 of us stayed behind at the house. This friend of a friend, the guy who went to CM who was from Pittsburgh says off-handedly, "Anyone want to smoke a joint?" It was a reasonable question knowing the crowd and the situation. When we all said yes, he said< "I knew you would" in a voice that was so familiar yet we could not place it at first. Then, after smoking most of the joint, one of my other friends yells out, "I know, I know". "You know what", we all asked in virtual unison. "That voice. You're from Pittsburgh. What is your last name?" "Rogers" came the reply. "Fred Rogers son?" "Yup" We then proceeded to, in a very stoned way, ask about the sweaters, the sneakers, the land of make believe, everything. He took it well. Or was real stoned himself. He was a real good guy we found out over the course of the weekend.

My claim to fame is that I smoked a joint with Mister Rogers' son.
posted by AugustWest at 11:27 AM on November 8 [11 favorites]


"I'd start a cadre of Neighborly Protestors who showed up at events where terrible people were speaking terrible things and we'd all make sure they knew we were praying for them to do better, praying with love and hope, because we need them to do better"

This is actually a remarkably inspirational idea.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:29 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


I agree. I mean, I don't disapprove of the people who have gone to greater means to express their disapproval, at all, but this could be another way to do it. One obstacle would be if the person so protested against tried to turn it into a press conference where they just repeated the same old lies; what would we do in that case? Whatever it would be would involve talking back, being given a response, and that would require something to keep the averse actor from just leaving or using the protest as a non-interactive platform. Hmm....
posted by JHarris at 8:18 PM on November 8


Everyone deserves civility.

Nah
I don’t know how to look at deleted posts so I have no idea if I am wandering into that territory. But I have recently had experience with someone on the other side of the current political shambles that said they never speak with anyone because they feel they’ll just be shouted down. That is not how you change minds—that’s how you harden people’s resolve against “the other.” It’s always time to model appropriate behavior and treat people like people. Which probably was what one of Fred Rogers’ mythical SEAL tattoos said.

I have to go see that movie, though I have a large bias towards watching on a device propped on my lap.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:17 AM on November 11


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