Mr. Rogers goes to Olympia

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The Mr. Rogers movie made me think about political philosophy. Most of us have one, right? It’s the way we see the world. Sometimes we’re unaware of our philosophy. Often it has contradictions. Regardless, we look at people and events through our philosophic lens. 

I admit my lens gets blurry sometimes. I start making assumptions instead of seeing what’s going on. That’s when I need to grab a cloth and wipe off the grime. The Mr. Rogers movie was like a cloth for me. 

Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister and student of child development. He was also the creator and host of maybe the most influential TV show ever, called “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” A documentary film was released this year about Rogers, showing his ideas and why so many children – and their families – loved him.

One of Mr. Rogers’ core beliefs was “everyone is special, just the way they are.” By special he meant “deserving of love.” The link with Rogers’ religious faith is obvious. “We are all God’s children,” believers say. We’re all worthy of being loved, just the way we are. Not because we’re famous or powerful or beautiful or smart. Simply as we are.

To watch Rogers speak to a child made me teary. He was so focused, so authentic; in that moment the child was the only person in the world. Even from scratchy old film clips I could feel the power of Rogers’ words and voice and gaze, the power to make a child’s life better through unconditional love.

Like many Weekly readers, and like my friends and colleagues, that’s also what I want to do: make lives better. We won’t influence hundreds of millions of lives like Rogers did, but we can make a difference every day.

The movie helped me realize my work comes from this belief, that each of us is worthy of being loved. Just the way we are. No need for spectacular achievements. Don’t have to be a particular size or color. Just the way we are.

So when I see a social issue or consider a piece of legislation, I look through the lens of my political philosophy: that everyone is worthy of love. I want institutions that reinforce that view. I want laws that promote that view. I want a neighborhood like Mr. Rogers’.

I didn’t realize that folks might disagree. (I’m a little myopic that way.) But in the movie, people said Mr. Rogers ruined America, that he created a generation of entitled young people. Why? “They won’t work hard,’” a man said. “They want everything handed to them. They think they were born special.”

These people believe that love must be earned. Even the love of a higher power. They’re like a cartoon drill sergeant, scowling at raw recruits. “You’ll never make it,” the drill sergeant yells. “Not tough enough.” That’s when I understood my political philosophy: when I saw its opposite. 

I don’t believe that anyone has to prove his or her inherent worth. We’re not all equally capable, of course. I can’t perform surgery or drive a race car, teach a child to read, sing on key. But that doesn’t mean I’m unworthy of love. Of respect. Of dignity.

Skills, behaviors, accomplishments – these are built on top of a foundation of worth. They’re not the foundation itself. And in my political philosophy, the worthier a person feels, the more likely she is to grow and accomplish and contribute to our neighborhood. Not in order to earn love, but from having love to share. 

So yeah, if you come to Olympia I’ll be one of those liberals who want poor kids to have good schools, want babies to have health care. A newborn shouldn’t have to prove itself worthy of our neighborhood’s love. The burden is on our neighborhood to be loving enough. We can be. I know it. Because we’re special just the way we are.

Laurie Jinkins is a public health official from Tacoma who serves as a member of the Washington House of Representatives from the 27th district.

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