Mr. Rogers and Clarity of Purpose

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 17, Issue No. 4a
August 1, 2018

By Dan Coughlin


When I was growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, there were six stations on tv to watch. One of them was PBS. Occasionally I would watch the first few minutes of a show called, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I watched Mr. Rogers put on his sweater and change his shoes, and then I quickly moved on to more meaningful shows like Gilligan’s Island, Leave it to Beaver, and I Dream of Jeannie. I always thought Mr. Rogers was kind of a goofy character who had no depth or excitement.

Last week my wife, Barb, said, “Let’s go see the Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I said I would go, but I had no idea at all what to expect.

As the film rolled on I became mesmerized.

You Bring Value as You Are

Everything about Fred Rogers came from a deep sense of purpose. He created his tv show, which ran from 1968 – 2000, because he wanted young children to have a positive, meaningful show that reinforced their self-worth as human beings. Over and over and over again in show after show he kept repeating messages of positive affirmation. He did it through songs and skits and with puppets and live characters.

He kept repeating the same themes for nearly 33 years. His point was that every person brings value not because of how they look or what they have, but because each person is a human being.

Here’s one song he sang over and over, which I found in his book, You Are Special:

It’s you I like, it’s not the things you wear, it’s not the way you do your hair – but it’s you I like.

The way you are right now, the way down deep inside you – not the things that hide you, not your toys – they’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like, every part of you, your skin, your eyes, your feelings, whether old or new. I hope that you’ll remember even when you’re feeling blue that it’s you I like, it’s you yourself, it’s you, it’s you… I… like!

Essentially, that’s the whole point of The Any Person Mindset, which says that any person can make a significant difference in an organization, but no one is born with the necessary traits. These are learned thinking traits. Everyone has the capacity to make a difference. It’s not based on titles or toys or income. You have what it takes to make a difference. Keep learning, keep going, and keep contributing.

Focus on Things that Matter

Mr. Rogers took on real-life serious topics.

He had shows on divorce and racism and parenting.

In one show he shared a small swimming pool with an African-American police officer where he washed both sets of feet. This was in 1969 at the height of the Civil War Riots. In an incredibly tender scene he smiles and washes his feet with a hose, then the feet of the other man, and then he dries off both pairs of feet with a towel.

In another show the day after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, which was three months after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, he had adults talking with children about what the word assassination meant. Unbelievable.


When I was a kid I completely missed the boat on Mr. Rogers. He was a man of remarkable purpose. He clearly knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted people of all ages to see the inherent value each of them had, and to communicate with other people with a tone of respect, caring, kindness, and compassion. Pretty darn good stuff I would say.

What a tremendous role model. And there’s a great scene in the film where a stingy senator didn’t want to spend tax money on public television. Mr. Rogers slayed him like a giant dragon. That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Republishing Articles

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