The late, great Fred Rogers treated everyone like a neighbor. I think most people interpret that word literally, i.e. a person living near or next door.
Mr. Rogers, however, had a broader definition. To him, everybody is our neighbor. He humanized our world better than anybody in modern history.
“Love is at the root of everything. All learning. All relationships.
It’s An invitation for somebody to be close to you.
The greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”Fred Rogers
I am humbled that Mr. Rogers and I share the same neighborhood, literally and figuratively. We’re both from Pittsburgh, PA. I grew up watching his TV show, which was produced by WQED in Pittsburgh. He taught me me two very valuable lessons:
- Prioritize likeness over differences
- Put others over self
Coincidentally, these are also lessons taught by Jesus in The Parable of The Good Samaritan, a story about what it looks like to be a neighbor. In that story, a question is asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37)
Both Mr. Rogers and Jesus had the same answer. We are all human and made in the likeness of God. Rather than focus on how we’re different … race, gender, political or religious beliefs … we should acknowledge we are all humans who need to know we are loved and are capable of loving others.
We should also place others above ourselves by seeing their problems as our problems. Why? Because the people in our lives are more important than our plans or agenda. We should enter the mess of their lives and make them our own.
When Mr. Rogers extended the invitation, “Won’t you be my neighbor?,” he was genuinely humanizing each of us and modeling the behavior of a loving neighbor. It was the same model of love the Good Samaritan offered to the beaten, nearly dead stranger on the side of road.
This standard of behavior is hard. It shouldn’t be, but it is. The reason it’s hard is because it’s counter-cultural. Society doesn’t teach unconditional love, selfless sacrifice and self-control. Rather, it promotes selfish love and “have it your way”. In fact, because we’re flooded with these messages daily, the force of their current acting on our behavior is so strong that many of us get caught up in it. For most of my life, I certainly was.
But now, I am grateful the seed that was planted in my heart as a child is starting to blossom. I am grateful for the lessons I was taught about how to be a good neighbor and who my neighbor is. I am grateful for the ability to prioritize likeness over differences and others over self. I am grateful for the willingness to enter the mess of other people’s lives and make them my own. I am grateful for my calling, which is to train others how to be a neighbor too.