Growing up, almost every day after school I could be found watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” during which Fred Rogers – an ordained minister as well as a children’s television host – taught me and so many other children important lessons in a compassionate and humble way.
At first glance, Mr. Rogers may not have seemed a very dynamic man in the traditional sense. He is known (and at times poked fun at) for his predictable outfit of a cardigan and sneakers and his sometimes goofy or awkward mannerisms. Yet one part in the recent documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” that particularly spoke to me was footage of Rogers testifying before the US Senate in 1969 to defend the need for funding for public television.
The senator running the hearing had been gruff and dismissive. Rogers, leaving his prepared remarks, asked if he could just share the words of a song that he wrote for the children who watched his show.
The song includes these lines:
“And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.”
The senator responded, “I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars.”
During his testimony Rogers explained that his goal had been to present “a meaningful expression of care.” A pure focus on selflessly and humbly sharing kindness with his young television audience was what motivated Rogers, and that is what enabled him to speak in a compelling way.
When I consider what set the creative and gifted Rogers apart, I think of this statement by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded The Christian Science Monitor as well as The First Church of Christ, Scientist: “Sincerity is more successful than genius or talent” (“Message to The Mother Church for 1900,” p. 9).
The Latin root of the word “sincere” means pure, untainted. Considering the meaning of this word reminds me of a passage in the Bible that invites self-examination: “Purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James 4:8, New Living Translation). I see this as an urging to surrender to divine goodness, to have as our singular focus seeking a depth of substance that is beyond what the world has to offer.
To me, this is an important way to think of sincerity. Christ Jesus said that if “thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matthew 6:22, King James Version). So when we’re seeking to feel and express God’s love, to “purify [our] hearts,” this can even have a positive effect on health and radiate out in our interactions with others.
What if, in our day-to-day lives, we were to focus on sincerely presenting “a meaningful expression of care”? It may appear nearly impossible to do this in the face of the rage, corruption, and tragedy we see on a daily basis in today’s world, be it in the news or in our neighborhoods. Should we just dismiss this whole concept of caring meaningfully as naive and beyond what most of us can achieve?
I find strength in the teachings of Christian Science, which point to God as the one source of all existence. The creation of God, a wholly good creator, could not be prone to insincerity. A loving creator would not parcel out sincerity to some, leaving others devoid of the ability to express it. It’s actually natural, even authentic, for each of us to feel and express our innate, pure goodness. Viewing sincerity as innate in all of us as God’s children, rather than believing we have to personally conjure it up, has greatly enhanced my aspiration toward and ability to embody it even in moments when it has seemed especially difficult to do so.
“Won’t you be my neighbor?” What Fred Rogers said so naturally to children eagerly listening on television, we can think and say in our hearts as we interact with one another. We can seek to reflect more childlike sincerity in our daily lives and in how we treat one another. And we may discover that not only does this feel much better than indulging anger or cynicism, but it has the healing power of God behind it.