What We Learn from Two Sentences Written By Mr. Rogers
The summer before my senior year of college, I interned at Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers had passed away the year before. The legendary show had been in re-runs for years. The Neighborhood – managed by Family Communications, Inc., at the time – was working on a series of special projects, but for the most part maintaining a low-profile after decades of not simply production – but international fame and success.
How that summer internship experience came about was a testament to both my and The Neighborhood’s quirky characters. My mom gave me a book of advice by Mr. Rogers that previous Christmas. Having devoured the show as a kid, I devoured the book in one sitting. And I got to thinking about what they – ‘they’ as in the show’s writers, producers, staff – were up to now. Their offices were located at WQED Pittsburgh, maybe 25 minutes from where we lived. I looked at their website, but there was no indication as to whether there were summer intern positions. And so – I wrote them a letter. And I asked if there were internship opportunities. A couple of weeks later, I received an email from their office. And then, home for Spring Break, I found myself in their office waiting room, staring at an enclosed case with Emmy statutes. I met with David Newell, their Director of Public Relations, who also played the mailman, Mr. McFeely on the show. They hadn’t had an intern in awhile, but it was something they were interested in working with me on. I didn’t care about a paycheck. I started when I returned home for summer break in June.
Being there as an intern wasn’t really about anything other than learning from and absorbing what this team was capable of producing for generations of children. As plentiful of the boxes and boxes of memorabilia were, so, too, were the plentiful friends of the show who would stop by. It was a revolving door of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show celebrities who would stop into the office. Mr. Rogers’ widow, Joanne Rogers, was among them. I was in awe almost every day that I was there. And yet as joyful as these Neighborhood reunions were there was a dark, sacred and magical office there in the corner – it had belonged to Fred Rogers. It hadn’t been touched since he’d left the last time. I’ve never been in a room so quiet, yet pulsing with imagination and memory.
I spent the majority of my time there that summer sorting through and organizing photographs and memorabilia – show notes, fan letters, fliers from appearances made by Mr. McFeely and the purple panda over the years.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I realized a piece of paper with Mr. Rogers’ handwriting had fallen into my handbag – it was a scrap of paper with his handwriting. It was was either a note to himself or a note to an assistant about how to respond to this particular fan letter, which I hadn’t seen or read.
“Sometimes all we can do is to accept others as they are and “know” that traditions change through generations. This family is living proof of that.”
It’s been 13 years since I interned there. I still keep that piece of paper in the wallet I carry with me every, single day.
I think about this quotation written by Mr. Rogers a lot, too.
And here’s why:
I vs. We.
It would have been SO SIMPLE for him to write ‘I’ into that sentence. “Sometimes all I can do is to accept others as they are…” But he didn’t write ‘I’ – he wrote ‘we’. It’s classic Mr. Rogers, yes, but also a move to get all of us thinking more ‘we’ versus ‘I’. What can we accept and what can we not accept? What are we capable of? What can we create?
Yes, things change. Duh. But there are anchors in our life that stay the same. We most likely refer to those anchors as “the way it is” or habits or customs or traditions. And it’s okay when the traditions change, too. Traditions change because people change – they change through generations, through cultural shifts, through personality shifts. And that’s okay.
What are we each living proof of?
Given the fact this slip of paper is just that – a slip of paper – I have no context to the situation to which he was referring or the family to whom he is addressing. But regardless, it makes me think – what are we each living proof of? What is our life, our story, or our legacy a testament to?
These two sentences are so small. Yet, so mighty. Mighty philosophically in and of themselves, but also mighty in how we choose to use those sentences to look at our brands, our businesses, and our legacies.
Here are ten questions derived from those two small, but mighty sentences that you can apply to yourself, your work, or your business:
- How often do you use ‘we’ versus ‘I’?
- How often does your team use ‘we’ versus ‘I’? Or pockets of people on your team? (Side note: Why are there even pockets of people who use ‘we’?)
- Where can you use ‘we’ more strategically – and where can you use ‘I’ more strategically?
- What are you (as in ‘I’) willing to accept versus what are you (as in ‘we’) willing to accept?
- Are those two acceptance “lists” the same or are they different – if different, why?
- What’s changing right now or what’s not changing at all?
- What are your traditions, and why?
- What traditions do you want to stay the same, and what traditions need to change?
- What are you and/or your family or your community living proof of?
- What’s your business or your work living proof of?
Breaking down and dissecting these one or two sentences reminds me of when you’d diagram a sentence in fifth grade. Noun, subject, verb, conjunction, noun. (Not in that order, obviously.)
What this is though is diagramming thought – a challenge to you to break down a thought and how it best applies to you or a challenge to you to be more strategic or precise with your words, language or meaning. Or maybe it’s both.
Regardless, I’ve kept this slip of paper in my wallet for so many years because it holds big meaning that can be interpreted in a lot of unique and mindful ways. I think that’s a fitting honor to Mr. Rogers on what would have been his 89th birthday today, March 20, 2017.