Reflections on Mister Rogers – Part II

I wanted to follow up on my previous blog in which I shared why I believed Fred Rogers was beloved, and why he was so successful in making meaningful, lasting connections with children through his television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Here, I want to discuss one part of the documentary film, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” that was most touching to me, and which illustrates the depth of Fred Rogers, the person, and the depth of his message.

In this part of the film, they show a clip of a scene from the program in which Daniel Tiger, the sensitive and often worried tiger puppet, shares with Lady Aberlin that he has been wondering if he was a mistake because he feels so different from everybody else. This is followed by a duet between Daniel and Lady Aberlin in which she assures him that he is not a mistake. A clip of this scene can also be found on Vimeo, and is really worth watching. (As an aside, the clip is introduced by a former producer on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood who says that she showed it to a room of therapists and mental health counselors at a conference who were especially moved by it. Go figure.) But in case you are not able to watch, below are the lyrics to the song they sing (copied from www.neighborhoodarchive.com).

Sometimes I Wonder If I’m a Mistake

 [Daniel Striped Tiger]

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a mistake
I’m not like anyone else I know
When I’m asleep or even awake
Sometimes I get to dreaming that I’m just a fake
I’m not like anyone else

Others I know are big and are wild
I’m very small and quite tame
Most of the time I’m weak and I’m mild
Do you suppose that’s a shame

Often I wonder if I’m a mistake
I’m not supposed to be scared am I
Sometimes I cry and sometimes I shake
Wondering isn’t it true that the strong never break
I’m not like anyone else I know
I’m not like anyone else

[Lady Aberlin]

I think you are just fine as you are
I really must tell you
I do like the person that you are becoming
When you are sleeping
When you are waking
You are my friend

It’s really true
I like you
Crying or shaking or dreaming or breaking
There’s no one mistaking it
You’re my best friend

I think you are just fine as you are
I really must tell you
I do like the person that you are becoming
When you are sleeping
When you are waking
You’re not a fake
You’re no mistake
You are my friend

After the song ends, Lady Aberlin and Daniel Tiger exchange these words: 

Lady Aberlin: “I think you are just fine exactly the way you are.”

Daniel Tiger: “The way I look?”

Lady Aberlin: “Yes.”

Daniel Tiger: “The way I talk?”

Lady Aberlin: “Yes!”

Daniel Tiger: “The way I love?”

Lady Aberlin: “Especially that.” 

Daniel Tiger: “[SIGH]”

Mr. Fred Rogers

The film offered a poignant commentary on this scene. The first was an observation on how the song ends in a duet in which Daniel repeated his insecure feelings while Lady Aberlin continued to sing her reassurances to him. The commentator explained that this was a reminder that it is not so easy to quiet doubt, but as a duet you can continue to hear support while you express your fears.  She noted that it didn’t need to end with Daniel saying, “Thank you. You’ve helped me a lot.” Those fears do not need to be resolved right away. What is important is that there is a duet and that the voice singing, “I like you just the way you are,” is unwavering. 

Another insight noted in the film is that Daniel Tiger is Fred Rogers. They explain that Rogers was a sickly and sensitive child with a wild imagination, that he spent much of his time alone, that he was bullied by his peers, and that he grew up in a home in which he was not allowed to express anger. Tigers are ordinarily ferocious and terrifying. But Daniel Tiger is especially tame.   

Rogers himself wondered if he was a mistake. He wondered if there was something wrong with him because he was different. But Rogers also wrote the duet. He also created a program that he would end by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day by just you’re being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” He made it his work in life to help children to know that which he struggled to know for himself. 

The reason I think this clip is so touching to therapists is because it strikes at the core of what we do. Yes, sometimes we help people to solve specific problems or to understand themselves better. But a very important part of our work is to provide a steady expression of care, unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and appreciation for the uniqueness of our patients, just the way they are, whether they believe it for themselves or not. And the process of therapy is much like a duet.

Fred Rogers knew that it was okay to not always be sure of yourself. He knew that feeling personally, even as an adult. But what he also knew was how important it was for someone else to be there to remind you that you are loved. That was his mission. And the overwhelmingly positive response to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”  suggests that he was loved too, just the way he was.

About the Author:

Brandon Kramer
Dr. Brandon Kramer specializes in treating adults with depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, and family conflict. He has particular experience and interest in working with college students and artists who struggle with self-esteem, self-development, and identity concerns, including gender and sexual identity, and has an affinity for working with individuals of diverse backgrounds.

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