Mr. Rogers: Good People, Good Actions Matter

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. Fred Rogers, The World According to Mr. Rogers

Conversely, if you go looking for a negative review of Morgan Neville‘s new documentary about TV icon Fred Rogers (1928-2003), lotsa luck.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is about “TV’s Friend for Children,” a good person doing mostly good things, a good person who believed most people could also do good—an important message to help offset the currently ultra-negative tone and actions of Trumpism.

In Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Mr. Rogers conveys attitudes and behavior that may bring tears to your eyes. Watch the trailer:

What Rogers understood is that good people/bad people is not necessarily a binary concept. He would more likely emphasize behavior, i.e., there being more good actions than bad actions, by people who sometimes do good things, sometimes not.

An unrelated post by Glenn Geher, PhD, Psychology Today, may serve to clarify this point:

Many people divide the world into the good people and the bad people. Friend or foe – that kind of thing. But you know, five years in a PhD program in social psychology will knock that kind of thinking right out of a person. One of the most fundamental lessons of social psychology (see Milgram, 1963) is the fact that bad or antisocial behavior is much more likely to be the result of situations that facilitate antisocial behavior – rather than by some internal qualities that are somehow uniquely held by ‘the bad people.’

Or, as stated succinctly by Steve Taylor, PhD, Psychology Today, “In human beings, ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are fluid. People can be a combination of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ qualities.”

Taylor’s definitions of “good” versus “evil” also seem pertinent and seem to take into account, though, that some people not only do evil things but are evil:

‘Good’ means a lack of self-centredness. It means the ability to empathise with other people, to feel compassion for them, and to put their needs before your own. It means, if necessary, sacrificing your own well-being for the sake of others’. It means benevolence, altruism and selflessness, and self-sacrifice towards a greater cause – all qualities which stem from a sense of empathy. It means being able to see beyond the superficial difference of race, gender or nationality and relate to a common human essence beneath them…

‘Evil’ people are those who are unable to empathise with others. As a result, their own needs and desires are of paramount importance. They are selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic. In fact, other people only have value for them to the extent that they can help them satisfy their own desires, or to which they can exploit them…

On the other hand, as empathy can be a learned trait, good actions sometimes come from unexpected sources.

Lara Zarum, Village Voice, on the particular relevance today of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?:

In the face of unnerving political turmoil like we’ve seen in the past few years, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and declare that there’s just nothing we can do. But Rogers might insist that there is something we can do (besides vote, which I’m certain he would’ve advocated): We can treat the people around us with dignity and respect. We can be good neighbors.

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