What began as a policy discussion on a community Facebook group ended when somebody commented, “You city people and your beliefs… I hate people like you.”
Some might call it a breakdown of civility or the endemic inhumanity of online discussions. Those are plausible reasons, but perhaps it’s simpler. Maybe we’ve just forgotten how to behave like mature adults.
Most of us learned the basics of civility (grownup behavior) from parents and role models when we were kids. During my formative years in the 1970s, I found my role model on the television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, hosted by Fred Rogers.
To the children of my generation, Mister Rogers served as the unofficial mentor in all things relating to self: accepting people, dealing with feelings, demonstrating kindness, and grappling with our imperfections. He taught us these crucial life skills in a way that little kids could understand with catchphrases such as, “I like you just the way you are.”
Much of the wisdom Rogers imparted has long since slipped from the public consciousness, but it’s every bit as valuable today as it was decades ago.
By revisiting his words, we can relearn or remind ourselves what it means to behave like grownups.
1. Recognize the hidden value in people.
“You’re much more than your age, job description, your income, or your output,” Rogers once said.
Part of accepting people as they are means that you value them based on criteria that reveal a truer picture of someone’s worth, rather than the standard metrics we use in everyday life.
Although Rogers didn’t state it explicitly, personal beliefs, family background, ideology, and religion also play into our subconscious calculations of another person’s worth. What you see on the surface does not always represent the iceberg lurking beneath the surface.
Is someone poor but kind? Do they lack an impressive job title but demonstrate an exemplary work ethic? Do they come from an elitist family but use their privilege to better society?
Pull out that mental checklist and reassess how you value others.
2. Be a helper.
Fred Rogers’ mom used to say to him, “Look for the helpers. If you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”
As a child, it’s good advice to look for “the helpers.” We’re helpless as kids, and when we see an adult aiding those in need, it instills hope and security.
As adults, we must become the helpers. I’ll admit that I sometimes find myself sitting on the sidelines, expecting other people to take the lead. Shame on me. Able adults must become a source of hope for both the younger generation and those unable to help themselves.
3. Be kind just because.
“There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” It’s one of Rogers’ simplest, almost cliche-like quotes. Still, it’s one of his most well known because of the message.
Be nice, for no reason at all, even when it’s hard to do so. It’s mass-market advice found in just about every self-help and inspirational text. That doesn’t make it any less valuable.
A civilized adult demonstrates their maturity when they show kindness in situations where the immature person resorts to indifference, hostility, or cruelty.
4. Take responsibility for our world.
Some of my neighbors would read this next quote by Rogers and think of socialism: “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility.”
We’re only responsible for ourselves, they say., I pay taxes. That’s already more than I should be doing. That’s one of the nicer ways someone’s explained it to me.
That kind of thinking comes from capitalism's evolution as an economic system to capitalism as a religious belief. Collective responsibility does not mean you must take on the world’s problems or sacrifice your life savings. You can give your time, volunteer, or at least change your everyday behaviors. No matter how successful you become, you’ll still share this planet with billions of other people.
5. Remember the people who made you.
Nobody got to where they are purely on their own merits, intelligence, or effort. For some, privilege gave them an advantage. For others, a mentor, parent, role model, or opportunity provided a springboard to success.
Others shaped us, not just as kids but as adults. True, not everyone has a positive impact on us. Even so, someone who put us through what seemed like an eternal boot camp helped transform us into the people we have become
Rogers reminded us of this when accepting a lifetime achievement award at the 1997 Emmy Awards. He told the audience, “Spend ten seconds to think about the people who helped you become who you are.”
This practice reminds us that no matter how much success we achieved, we owe some of it to the people who challenged us, aided us, and even battled us.
6. Fight evil with the one weapon it can’t stand.
Over the last four years, some of us have withdrawn from friends and family. In some cases, we’ve cut off all contact. We disapprove of who they’ve become, and they despise how we’ve evolved.
How do we move beyond these damaged relationships?
Refer to one of Rogers’ shortest and most profound quotes, “The only thing evil can’t stand is forgiveness.”
Are those former friends and disowned family members evil? That’s not for me to judge, but it’s something for you to ponder. Even if they share DNA with some underworld demon, there’s a cathartic benefit from forgiveness worth considering.
7. Recognize your impact on every person you meet.
Read this next quote by Rogers before every important conversation. “There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
That’s not something we think about that when engaging in debate or argument. But what if you approached every personal interaction with the assumption that you’ll leave a lasting impact on the other person? How would that change your approach?
- You’ll choose your words more carefully.
- You’ll pay more attention to what you can learn from them and put more thought into what they can learn from you.
- You’ll think less about trying to impress and more about being as authentic as possible.
If you’re going to leave a lasting impression on everyone you meet, be intentional about it; don’t leave it to chance.
How to heal your neighborhood
In Rogers’ final television appearance in 2003, dying from stomach cancer, he talked about the importance of expressing your feelings through the arts, sports, and other creative activities.
Let’s follow that advice. Instead of expressing hate, encourage those you know to pick up a pen, paintbrush, musical instrument, or basketball.
As Rogers said in his farewell address, “Help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods.”