Mr. Rogers, beta fish, and some bold what-ifs

Won't You Be My Neighbor.jpg

Have you seen Won’t You Be My Neighbor yet? You know, the Morgan Neville documentary on Fred Rogers?

I went in with some pretty high expectations. I even went to the fancy theatre in town with the full recliners and blankets and all that.

Safe to say, I loved the film very, very much and it was special to me.

There isn’t much to say about the film that hasn’t already been said by the billion and a half reflections, essays, and intellectual think pieces that have emerged in response to the film. The thing that stood out most from the film was the ethos that guided Fred Rogers through decades of work on public television.

It was a deeply held belief he would repeat frequently, from his living-room TV set to a convocation ceremony at Yale.

"You don’t have to be sensational for people to love you.”

It’s hard to imagine what sort of person would have a negative thing to say about Fred Rogers, but because people are the way they are, he wasn’t without his critics. Some suggested that by constantly reminding kids that they were special, without having done anything to earn that distinction, he was creating a generation of spoiled and entitled complainers.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor spends just a minute addressing that concern. It was a core principle of Fred Rogers’ faith that led him to believe that all people, regardless of accomplishment, are deeply embedded with extreme value. As an ordained minister, Mr. Rogers could’ve used theological language to explain how each person is created as a bearer of the Imago Dei- the Image of God, but he seemed to prefer to communicate that message in song and with puppets.

I’ve come to think there are two ways of seeing the world–

You can see the world as a place where everything must be earned. It’s a competitive and cutthroat environment and only those who win have worth. You have to be sensational for people to love you. This is the way of the beta fish, and this is why you can’t keep two of them in the same bowl. 


You can see the world as a place where everything is an act of grace. A gift. One where people are valuable and significant, no matter what they’ve done. No matter what they haven’t done. You don’t have to be sensational for people to love you. This is the way of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.



I’ve ran into a lot of people who think like beta fish. It’s a way of thinking that expresses itself many different ways. 

Sometimes it’s a grumpy uncle, reading the newspaper and complaining that the reason people are poor is because they lack the work ethic… all while ignoring all that he’s had handed down to him.

Sometimes it’s an unhealthy coach or boss who thinks the only way to motivate a team is through creating an atmosphere of fear.

More often than those scenarios, thought, it looks like people being hard on themselves, refusing to believe they are worthy of being loved, always trying to prove something.

Actually, I think a lot of the world’s most harmful actions aren’t the result of people believing they’re special. They’re the result of people desperately trying to prove that they’re worthy of acceptance.

When people are secure in knowing that they’re loved and accepted, they can thrive.

Here’s are a few bold what ifs.

What if we really believed we didn’t need to be sensational in order to be loved?

What if we saw others as valuable, rather than useful?

What if we used all of our creative juices to “call out” people and let them know they’re valuable?

I think we’d be on to something really good.