Day 57 - Mr. Rogers, Emotional Intelligence & The Buddha
(For my friend Bob)
I went to see the Mr. Rogers movie last night and was struck at how much of an anomaly he was. When I was a kid growing up, my parents called him the creepy guy so I called him the creepy guy. I am sure there were a lot of people that called him that...or worse.
Truth be told he was ahead of his time in many ways. He tackled subjects that no one else was talking to kids about: death, divorce, war. He was mainly concerned with helping children learn how to handle and process their feelings. I watched that show a lot as a kid but I never remembering feeling like I was getting instruction to manage myself and emotions. Why did I miss that?
Probably I missed it because it was easy to miss. This was not an area that one received a great deal of reinforcement. I do not remember anyone talking to me as a kid about how to handle hard emotions. I am sure that my parents did on some level but I do not remember it.
Fred Rogers was a kind of Buddha. An enlightened being. He lived by his values and what he valued were people. It must not have been easy to be him. I am sure that on more than one occasion he wanted to be someone else. Be able to express anger inappropriately - yell, scream, have an affair. But that was not who he was. He seemed to intuitively know that which the rest of us struggle...it is all about how you react to your own feelings. Fred Rogers was emotionally intelligent before there was even a phrase to describe it.
It made me think of how little time I really give to my own emotions. I can’t tell you one way that I manage anger besides yelling. Maybe writing. But seriously I do not have a go to thing to do when I am pissed. Mr. Rogers used to bang on the low keys on his piano a few times, swim laps or walk. It seems ridiculous but I never really thought about how I deal with hard feelings until last night sitting in that movie. I know that I have coping strategies. Everyone does. What struck me was that Fred Rogers had them at the ready - they were things he did everyday to deal with the every day feelings of anger, frustration and dis-ease. It put it in a whole new perspective for me.
I have a lot of daily practices: writing, meditating, yoga, reading a couple daily spiritual books. I even have a daily practice that kind of inventories my spiritual nature. But I have never thought about having a daily practice to assist me with dealing with hard emotions, especially anger. I began to think new thoughts - thoughts that made me reframe my current world and how I am living it. I realized that what I think Fred was talking about was what we call stress management today. What am I doing for myself to alleviate the daily stressors I feel so that I can be emotionally heathy?
Fred Rogers seemed to be a beacon to others who struggled with hard emotions, anger in particular. I think this might be because he unlocked something in himself and then dedicated his life to helping others do the same. I am pretty fricking sure that is exactly what a Buddha is. Someone who has worked out their own shit and then helps whomever crosses their path do the same.
To say that my childhood TV personality was transformed for me last night would be an understatement. I think I might start a new religion and call it Mr. Rogersism. We would all change our clothes when we came inside so that our homes were always comfortable; we literally shed all the perils of the outside world. I would have a make-believe world that I could go to when my internal or external world got to be too much to handle. That world would include friends that were flawed but kind. People who were aligned with me and my path. I would have people around me that would remind me to marvel at the every day things that seem unimportant...like spending 5 minutes learning how magazines are made. We would not eat food that came from beings with a mother. We would be interested in our fellows, their struggles, their joys. We could and would delight in any opportunity to be kind. Wait, I just described Buddhism. So relieved that I am not now responsible for creating and maintaining a new religion!
What I am going to do is to honor this man that was a hero to many and displayed an incredible amount of courage. It could not have been easy to be Mr. Rogers in our world. We do not live in a place that really values kindness, goodness and friendship. We didn’t in Fred’s time and I think we do even less today. We pay a lot of lip service to those ideals. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to have been Fred Rogers. The ridicule, jokes and complete misunderstanding of who and what he was. Being Fred Rogers could not have been easy but despite that fact, he made the best of it. He was true to himself and his beliefs and then lived a life true to his convictions. He was himself even though his way of being was unpopular, a departure from the norm and often misunderstood. I think Fred Rogers lived his best life and in so doing, helped a lot of others do the same. I can’t think of one reason to not follow in his footsteps. If I learned anything from watching the movie last night, I learned this: It takes a lot of courage to be different, to be kind and to take in all the hardness in the world. But it can be done. One just has to think of everyone else as a neighbor.