Last night I saw the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, advertised as a story about Fred Rogers. It was absolutely wonderful, and the energy of open-heartedness and joy filled the theater at the end. I left so uplifted and inspired. I found myself thinking about some of his words, some of the scenes, some of the stated and unstated philosophies throughout the rest of the night and upon awaking this morning. And, while it was indeed about Mr. Rogers and his children’s television program, which aired for 895 episodes, from 1968-2001, his story was couched within the story of the man who interviewed him for an Esquire magazine article on heroes in 1998.
On the heels of being greatly inspired by the testimonies by a number of State Department and other governmental officials in the Impeachment hearings, who, at great personal risk, have stepped forward to speak their truth, this feeling of being uplifted by by the words and actions of others is very much with me right now. It is a palpable thing, and I am feeling its presence more than I can remember in a very long time.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an Essential Thought on people who were my personal heroes. In this Essential Thought, I would like to focus on how each of us have the ability to inspire others. In my life, I have always sought to inspire by my deeds; I guess I took that old adage “actions speak louder than words” to heart. But over the years, and especially with these recent experiences in mind, I have come to realize that both are incredibly important.
Do you think of yourself as inspirational? Has anyone ever told you that you inspired them in some way? Reflecting on the movie, I realized that Mr. Rogers was willing to do things that made others uncomfortable, and the results were incredible. One example was a little boy who was on the set of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as part of the Make a Wish Foundation program for very ill or dying children. The segment, which was just supposed to be a few minutes long, was dragging on, and the child was acting very disruptive and uncooperative. Mr. Rogers, in his unflappable way, continued to talk to the child supportively, long after everyone else on the set was frustrated and wanted to conclude the visit. Finally, the child surrendered to Mr. Rogers’ patience and gentle perseverance…and he reached out and gave Mr. Rogers a long and emotional hug. It was a beautiful culmination that would have never happened if the script and the schedule had been followed. Fred Rogers felt into the situation and gave the time needed, even though it made everyone else uncomfortable.
The “break through” moments in the movie that resulted from enduring or creating a period of discomfort made me realize that I was brought up not to make people uncomfortable…not to ask certain questions, or to respect someone’s desire to not speak about something. While that may be polite, it can keep interactions on a very superficial level. And skating on the surface of feelings will not likely result in any kind of inspiring interaction.
Another thing that clearly was part of Fred Rogers’ ability to inspire was his way of deeply listening to the person who was speaking to him. He gave his full focus, one hundred percent of his attention, and though it was intense to be on the receiving end of his interaction, it was also singular in most people’s experience to feel so seen, to feel so heard. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, had taught that the greatest gift we can give someone is our undivided attention. In this time of cell phones, computers, texts and other technology designed to divert our attention, his words and encouragement to fully engage those we interact with has even more meaning. Fred Rogers was a master at communicating with this level of intimacy.
A third element of inspiring others was acknowledging them…their uniqueness, their effort, their concerns. Fred Rogers had a way of deeply knowing a person…having the interest, taking the time and making the effort to learn about them, and, importantly, to follow up with them. Being a true friend takes time and effort, and a question for each of us is “What kind of friend am I?” And, “What kind of friend do I want to be?” Making someone feel loved, cared about, and acknowledged through our words and actions can literally change the course of their life. Like laughter, I think that the energy of inspiration is contagious; it is hard to be the recipient of that kind of love and acknowledgement and not feel a desire to “pay it forward”.
Finally, our words and actions, to inspire, must be authentic and come from the heart. I think that accessing the full power of our heart and throat chakras are important to listening, speaking and truly caring in a way that inspires. Communication is made up of many facets…sincere interest, attentive listening, the message spoken, the body language, acknowledgement. I love the essential oils of Blue Tansy, Laurel Leaf and Blue Spruce to help develop our ability to to communicate authentically. And Green Cardamom, Ylang Ylang and Oak Moss essences help us speak and act from a place of love.
Fred Rogers was asked in the Esquire interview (somewhat tongue in cheek) if he was a Saint…and he said that he didn’t really like that characterization as it would convey the meaning that what he did was unattainable to others. He really felt that all of us have the ability to be an inspiration to others, and he diligently worked at it every day. It was a practice to him. And I am inspired to make it a practice, too.