Pearls & Vodka

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Hello Neighbor!

In early June of this year, filmmaker Morgan Neville released a documentary about the life and legacy of Fred Rogers. If you don’t know who Fred Rogers is, you clearly are a millennial, or perhaps you only know him as, “Mr. Rogers.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor shows viewers the true impact a person can have with a little understanding and kindness.

Fred Rogers lived his life with one goal in mind:  being the alternative to what the world had to offer.

His career began on The Children’s Corner in 1967 at WQED, and he made his last public appearance shortly after the attacks of 9/11. [1]

There were no massive budgets for all the bells and whistles that Hollywood had to offer on Mr. Rogers’ sets. He relied heavily on his own voice, that smooth southern voice with the familiar drawl to those of us raised below the Mason-Dixon Line. I remember as a child thinking his voice was steady, he never raised his voice, even in moments of joyful glee his tempo remained the same. When you look back on the archived footage of Fred Rogers, largely present in Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Mr. Rogers exercised the art of listening, perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever seen before. He didn’t care who was talking, young or old, he was always patiently listening, letting the person get every single word and thought out.

Can you even imagine that in our society today?

He never treated the children on his show as if they were adults, but he did show them, as an adult, that their voices were important and that he was genuinely interested in their thoughts and feelings.

Fred Rogers had a strong desire to present clean entertainment, but he never shied away from tough subjects. Mr. Rogers had episodes dealing with divorce, racism, assassinations, death and even hard feelings to discuss like insecurity.

Mr. Rogers’ main goal in each episode of his show was to help children appreciate the idea of someone telling you they like you just the way you are.

Is this a movie review?

No, this is not a movie review.

I was a few articles into my morning news reading when I was struck by the thought, “society is just so cruel.” I know you are probably blown away by the profound nature of that statement, so I’ll give you a few minutes to pick yourself up off the ground…

I’m not sure how we got here as a society, I’m sure there are lots of places to lay the blame. Not that it would do any good.

One thing that struck me in reading about Neville’s documentary on Fred Rogers was the idea that he was the alternative to what Hollywood was becoming, and is today. The old saying, “sex sells” but also, profanity, death, violence, destruction, the list goes on and on. And it’s not Hollywood’s fault, per se, for creating what sells; that’s their job. Another old saying was, “Art depicts life.” One aspect of Won’t You Be My Neighbor is the storyline of how Mr. Rogers was bullied as a child for being chubby.

And we are, a nation full of bullies.

That’s not me being negative, it’s just reality. Hollywood mirrors society. Art depicts life.

And sure, not everyone is a bully. Plenty of folks try to not be bullies and not to raise bullies.

But often times, the loudest voices are the only ones heard, and they are typically bullies.

A Thousand Points of Light

‘‘Thousand Points of Light. I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? It was put out by a Republican wasn’t it.”’

Those were the words of President Donald Trump this week at a campaign rally in Montana.

For those who are unfamiliar with the phrase, “a thousand points of light” it was a phrase popularized by President George H.W. Bush that he, in turn, named a private non-profit organization after, that focuses on volunteerism. Bush first used the phrase during his Presidential nomination acceptance speech in 1988 at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana.

In a speech written by Peggy Noonan and Craig Smith, the address likened America’s clubs and volunteer organizations to “a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” Bush reprised the phrase near the end of his speech, affirming that he would “keep America moving forward, always forward—for a better America, for an endless enduring dream and a thousand points of light.[3]

He again repeated the phrase in his inaugural address in January of 1989.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe President Trump didn’t remember it was the newly widowed President Bush who said it. And it shouldn’t matter who said it.

But the truth of the matter is, why must we mock the ideas, the thoughts and the words of others?

And truth be told, unfortunately, President Trump does a lot of that. But again, Hollywood produces what sells and Trump delivers what gets him elected. Right, wrong, or indifferent.

That doesn’t make it right, and that is not me condoning it. It’s just facts.

I personally am not onboard with raising my son to think it’s ever okay to mock someone, for any reason. The idea that it would be acceptable is part of our problem as a nation. And part of what elects folks who tend to be bullies.

The football coaching legend Lou Holtz said once, “If you burn your neighbor’s house down, it doesn’t make your house look any better.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Our nation has been gripped with photos, audio clips and stories of separation along our southern border. Some, unfortunately, have been fabricated demeaning the harsh realities of some circumstances. We’ve been bickering as a nation since the tales began unfolding about who should be “allowed” here and who should not. We’ve Tweeted, we’ve Facebooked, we’ve blogged. We’ve been glued to network news programs and publications. We’ve seen the worst of some, and the best of others.

When being realistic, I think we can all agree that immigration is a very difficult and tricky process to maneuver. The idea that we would just have a free-for-all at our borders is both dangerous and frankly insane. I’ve said before on this blog, and it bears repeating, laws are made to protect us. Sometimes the process of carrying them out and “adjusting” them can convolute that truth, but the premise remains.

If someone tells you, “I could fix immigration” they are fooling themselves, but hopefully not you as well.

I’m not sure a perfect, fool-proof, make-everyone-happy fix exists. In fact, I’m quite sure that is not possible.

That doesn’t mean there’s not work to be done. That doesn’t mean that our laws don’t need work. That doesn’t mean that some folks are out of line. And that doesn’t mean our laws should not be followed.

There is major room for improvement, on both sides of the aisle.

This idea though of turning a cold shoulder, locking up our borders and shutting down lawful, legal immigration is just bonkers to me. It might even make Fred Rogers’ sweater get ruffled.

There are thousands of people inside our borders who came here legally and have added so much to our society. We need those people. And we should celebrate their journeys. And, we should ensure the path to legal citizenship exists for those who are coming for the right reasons to our country. That’s what being a neighbor is. We shouldn’t ostracize them once they are here. We shouldn’t belittle them because we can’t understand them. We shouldn’t demean them because they look different.

M.F. Moonzajer, an Afghani journalist, once wrote, “How can you have dreams when your neighbors have nightmares?” [5]

There is a Compromise Out There

President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.” 

And we should compromise on some things, perhaps things like immigration. But one thing we should never compromise on is human decency.


…be kind to one another…


Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash