The TEDx web site hosts a wealth of content – today I found a talk by Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) sharing what he knows about storytelling – starting at the end and working back to the beginning – in a talk titled: The clues to a great story.
Two minutes into the talk Stanton says; “The children’s television host Mr. Rogers always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
And this is where I stopped watching and asked myself; “Just who is Mr Rogers and why should I care?”
Fred McFeely Rogers (20 March 1928 to 27 February 2003) was an American television personality, puppeteer, educator, Presbyterian minister, composer, songwriter, author, and activist. Rogers was most famous for creating, hosting, and composing the theme music for the educational preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968–2001), which featured his kind, gentle, soft-spoken personality and directness to his audiences
In the very first show that aired on PBS, Fred Rogers began the program much as he would over the next 33 years by walking through the front door of his television house and trading in his raincoat and suit jacket for a zippered sweater. The sweaters soon became as much a part of the program as the puppets. In all, Rogers had about two dozen of them, all made by his mother.
The reason Mr. Rogers always carefully hung up his coat at the beginning of each episode was to instill this good habit into children, and that was a motivating principle that permeated not only his show, but his entire lifestyle. One of his favorite quotes was the old Quaker saying, “Attitudes are caught, not taught.”
The entire idea behind Mr. Rogers’ show was that his door was always open to anyone who wanted to come in. Indeed, even in a time of tumultous racial strife (the show debuted in the late ’60s), he was a bastion of social progress, advocating the beauty of diversity. “Finding ways to harmonize our uniqueness with the uniqueness of others can be the most fun – and the most rewarding – of all,” he said. He even famously breakdanced on his show because he was a man with an eternally open mind (and heart).
But back to the why I stopped at the quote; “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
It is so apt on a deeply personal level for myself, involved as I am in a number of volunteer positions bringing me into contact with people of all ages from all walks of life and a timely reminder that we all need basic things in life – warmth, food, happiness and love. I do not believe that there are any intrinsically bad people in the world – only souls crying out for love and attention.
On a macro level the quote has so much meaning for our South Africa which finds itself once again in a political, social and racial quagmire that could really be solved by dialogue – or hearing someone else’s story!
Those stories will never be properly told in the context of a simple article, blog post, Facebook update or 140 character tweet. We need a nation binding event that places all of us together to share our stories – something like a World Cup or other event that will bind us together in a common purpose.
Let us learn one last lesson from Mr Rogers who said; “The best way to convince someone of something is to do it gently and articulately.” When he stood up to Congress and argued for PBS (whose funding was to be cut in half), he did this not by shouting or protesting, but by making a soft-spoken, eloquent speech. The judge responded by saying, “I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, but this is the first time I’ve had goosebumps in two days.”
True Ubuntu from a man who probably never heard the word!