Taking a cue in kindness from Mr. Rogers

Published 7:16 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

In a recent issue of “Time” magazine (June 25, 2018), I read a short piece on “Mister Rogers shows the way forward.”

The writer was affirming Morgan Neville’s new documentary film about Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Since I haven’t seen the film, I will reserve comment.

However, I remember the television program “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” with much appreciation. At the time, my children and I were big fans.

As you might remember, Mr. Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, hosted a gentle, thoughtful children’s program that treated children as intellectual people who deserved the best. From the moment Mr. Rogers put on his cardigan and sneakers, with his kind disposition, he had the children enthralled. In addition to other things, Mr. Rogers helped children explore some of the deeper dimensions of life such as fear, grief and justice. For instance, Mr. Rogers had an African American policeman friend take off his shoes and put his feet in a pool. This was in a time when mixed swimming between the races was frowned upon. Then there were the puppets and marionettes from a make-believe land. All in all, it was a great program for children.

For me, Mr. Rogers came across as a kind, loving gentleman who believed in the welfare of children and helped them understand the meaning of living in a neighborhood and what it means to be neighborly.

By the way, whatever happened to kindness? Now, not that kindness is totally missing in our society. It isn’t. There are numerous examples of kindness all around us.

Recently, when our community complex was without water for several days because of the leaking of underground water pipes, neighbors who hardly knew each other went out of their way to see that everybody had water and whatever else they needed. Neighbors acted neighborly, and that’s just one example.

But there is also an an abundance of evidence that kindness is on the wane in how people are treated in this culture today. I don’t think in my lifetime I have seen such turmoil in America and among Americans as I observe at this present time.

Nature really does abhor a vacuum

and because we have allowed virtue to decline, including kindness, we are experiencing societal rudeness, disrespect, cruelty, accusations, public meeting mania, thoughtless rhetoric, shouting matches, encouraged harassment, hatred and violence.

While increasingly, kindness may not be the answer to all our problems, it could certainly open the doors to more meaningful relationships, dialogue and a more civil America.

So what is kindness? Simply stated, kindness is described “as love in action.” It is those things we do. The Phillips’s translation of the Bible puts it this way, “It (kindness) looks for a way of being constructive” (l Corinthians 13:4). Mainly, kindness refers to an act of grace. The following are a few additional thoughts about kindness.

First, kindness is of Divine origin. Why are we to be kind anyway? First and foremost, we are to be kind because of God’s special kindness to us. Throughout the scriptures, the great theme of God’s unrelenting kindness throbs like a powerful heartbeat. As the psalmist stated it, “His merciful kindness is great toward us…” (psalm 117:2). And this refrain occurs over and over again.

Point! It is God’s kindness toward us that produces our gratitude and enables our kindness toward others, even to those who are different and disagreeable.

Second, kindness is all inclusive.

Origen, an early Christian theologian, had it that kindness means love that is “sweet to all.”

Friends, our fractured, divided, mistrusting nation and world are literally begging for neighbors and citizens, for people, willing to show some kind compassion.

The need for that can be clearly seen not only in religious discrimination and racial discrimination and gender discrimination but now in political discrimination. Responding to the political animosity of these days, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a law professor writing for “USA Today” asked, “Is America headed toward a Civil War?” God forbid.

As people of faith, our kindness should be of such a quality that it embraces all of life. Sure, it includes our pets and livestock, our scrubs, trees, flowers, rivers, lakes and all the resources of earth entrusted to our care. And, of course, it should include our fellow human beings, especially our fellow human beings.

Finally, kindness is a choice. Since much of God’s good work in the world is accomplished through mercy and kindness, and since we have allowed virtue, including kindness, to wane, causing much societal degeneration, I would like to invite kindness and the other virtues back into our conversation and everyday lives.

And we take our cue from Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood, where children lived in harmony, were blessed, enjoyed learning and living together and experienced kindness and gentleness in community.