A new documentary premiered recently. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is about the philosophy and achievements of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. The film has received rave reviews from both critics, and the public in general.
It is said that the reminder of a more gentle, accepting outlook on what life and behavior could be is an antidote to the deep recurring anger that has seemed to have taken over many everyday lives. Mr. Rogers’ message is, of course, “It’s you I like”. He proposed a world where individuals listen to, learn from and expand their horizons while airing their differences.
It has been said that partisanship, the attitude of intolerance for others, has become the rule of the day in this summer of 2018. There has been a spike toward the negative in racial, religious, gender, and age-related diversity. Verbal and physical violence are beginning to be accepted as the norm.
Some believe that the anger stems from the anxiety of white men. According to the census, caucasian males have become a minority group. After decades of these individuals owning the larger portion of the proverbial pie, the minority, i.e., women and people of color, have now become the larger part of the whole. It is not surprising that the new minority are unfailingly dedicated to holding on to their assets, political and financial.
While there are pressures for the new majority to embrace civility, there is also, according to research, duress for women and people of color to empathize with the new minority(the white male). The disquiet caused by the disruption of the previous norm has left all groups the task of finding their way into a changed and uncertain future. Major change provokes anxiety, which, in turn, becomes morphed into anger. The road ahead is no longer clear.
The voters in the 2016 election on the Republican side prospered with chants of “Lock her up” and “Build the Wall”. Now it is Democratic anger exemplified in the slogans of “#MeToo” and “#TimesUp” that is ringing out on traditional and social media. While each side believes in the validity of their own rage, they have little to no understanding of the feelings of the other side.
What happened to “It’s you I like” and the salience of the values of kindness and acceptance? Unfortunately, there’s something deeply nurturing in kindness but it is not, and has never been, sexy. In a time of sound bites and excessive drama, “nice” just fades into the background. “Nice” is simply not enough.
A hopeful trend in this time of rage is that the younger generation, the millennials, have become interested and engaged in so-called “moral” issues. These individuals are more likely to focus on causes than any particular political party.
The millennials have their own slogans, “#NeverAgain” and “#gUnsafe”. Representatives of this movement have continued to speak and hold rallies. They have pledged to continue in their efforts until they believe they have been heard. Although some were penalized for participating in Enough! a national school walk out, on March 14, 2018, participate they did. Some of the leaders, such as David Hogg, have been insulted and ridiculed in national coverage. Still, they persist. As in the late 60’s and into the 70s, the young people refuse to be silenced. Peter Turchin, a scientist who specializes in cultural evolution, claims that there is an approximately 50-year cycle between bouts of societal rage. He calls the portion of the cycle where rage meets rage “cliodynamics”. Turchin posits that there are more individuals with wealth than there are positions of power. The power that is discussed is the power to influence and control others. This, he theorizes leads to a feeling of scarcity and insecurity which then turns into a pernicious emotional contagion. This, in turn, develops into scapegoating. Turchin believes that these waves are driven by economics. According to his perspective, rather than working in a collaborative effort, an anger-provoking story emerges that breeds the growth of rigid personal and perceived class boundaries.
Anger can be a stimulant — it feels potent. This is especially cogent during a time when there is a perception that supplies of personal influence are limited. Power feels good and can behave like an addictive agent, which, in turn, pollutes society. The intensity of the resulting cutthroat competition blocks out more moderate responses. Empathy is a non-factor in this equation.
This is a far step from “you I like”.
The audience response to the Mr. Rogers documentary has been described as “quietly shattering”. The reminder of the human need to connect; to care; to help each other has brought tears to moviegoers. In an acknowledged time of violent divisiveness, the remembrance of the capacity to love fully and withhold judgment strikes a longing for a genuine sanctuary in which the individual can truly be fully him/ herself.
The writer Rebecca Traister describes the present time as a season of “himpathy” The United States, is a country in which the Caucasian male, who comprises 1/3 of the population holds 2/3 of the elected offices. A feeling of injustice is prevalent and growing. Anger is a logical response to the
perceived scorn of the “haves” for the “have-nots”.
Those who identify the message of Fred Rogers as outdated, and, in their opinion, weak and irrelevant, do not understand that this country has called on him during times of crisis. The assassination of Robert Kennedy; the explosion of the Challenger; and the terror that arose after 9/11 were all occasions when Fred Rogers was asked to assist. He had a unique ability to manifest calm and the belief that eventually, everything would be alright.
Change is always preceded by chaos. Perhaps that is the condition of the country today. In Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, the question to angry criticism would be, “Why are we acting this way?” Fred Rogers taught that everyone’s feelings were important. This included children, women, immigrants and the poor.