How Mr. Rogers Helped Me Find My Place in the Neighborhood
Every time I hear the opening chords to the “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” theme, tears well up in my eyes. Nostalgia seems to flash before my eyes as I recall the Land of Make Believe, Henrietta Pussycat, Daniel Tiger and King Friday. I recall the days when my family would go to Pittsburgh and we would visit the Mr. Rogers exhibit at the Children’s Museum. I recall the themes of love, reassurance and belonging.
Whenever Mr. Rogers is brought up in conversation now, whether with praise or criticism, the phrase “I like you just the way you are” comes up. As a person born in 2000, stuck between the “lazy, entitled” millennials and the “tide pod eating” gen Z, there isn’t a whole lot of encouragement or love for anyone anymore, even if that’s what’s needed. What’s wrong with a little love every now and then? What’s wrong with acceptance, and encouragement, and recognizing everybody’s place in the world?
I think Mr. Rogers’ phrase “I like you just the way you are” has huge implications for the disability community. In 1981, a 10-year-old named Jeff Erlanger who was left paralyzed after a spinal surgery appeared on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”. At the end of the show, they sang “It’s You I Like”.
This message is very important to me. Jeff didn’t have to do anything to earn Mr. Rogers’ love.
Although there are lots of things people with disabilities can do, there are things we can’t do as well, and respect for our existence should not depend on what we can or can’t do. It should depend, like Rogers thoroughly believed, on the fact that we are people, and every person has value.
I know there are people who do not like me. They simply cannot overcome the fact that I think, talk and act differently than they do, or that there are things I can’t do that they can. But what I look for in a person is someone who has an attitude like Mr. Rogers. Someone who knows, loves and appreciates me just the way I am, including what I can do and what I can’t do. We should all take after Mr. Rogers and like people just the way they are.