45 years ago today “mr. roger’s neighborhood” debuted on pbs. i was 2. while i don’t remember the actual first show, i do remember watching “the neighborhood,” in black and white, on a regular basis. when i was very young i believed that mr. rogers could hear and see me and i answered his questions with great intention and reverence. it was easy to imagine i was being heard because mr. rogers always paused after he asked a question and he always listened actively. he was engaged. he looked into the camera and held the gaze. he left space for answers. he created conversation. he didn’t need to fill the space. he fed his fish in silence and took his time doing it.
45 years later, space feels hard to find. silence is sparce. slowness has been overtaken by fast-paced constant movement and it feels like no image emanating from a screen listens. eye contact? what is that?
mr. roger’s original vision for a television program grew out of his frustration and disappointment with the seeming irreverence of his television peers in creating work for the new medium. television was overpopulated, in his opinion, with people throwing pies in one another’s faces. “smart” and respectful material was lacking and the only way he could live with himself was to take a swing at providing programming that spoke to and called out the very best in his audience. he did this by being counter cultural, by offering thoughtful discourse, and providing tools for both the intellectual and emotional needs of his audience. he didn’t shock anyone into paying attention. he didn’t yell. he didn’t use single second visual bytes to keep his viewers from looking away.
so today, why not honor mr. rogers (and the many others like him who care about the quality and content of that which is presented on screens) by, somehow, redeeming your screen time. why not switch out a smart, point of view short film for your typical sitcom (http://www.pbs.org/pov/video/search.php?search_type=type&offset=16#film-list). or take time for a beautiful, complex, or at least authentically told, documentary when you’d typically watch the news (for instance: searching for sugarman, afghan star, paul williams still alive, bill cunningham new york, a man named pearl, or touch the sound...and if you’d like more...email me and i’ll be happy to send you a list). how about listening to a story at story corp instead of spacing out to youtube (http://storycorps.org). possibly swap a slow, quality classic for your next mindless adventure or a slapstick musical for your next romcom. or, if you want to kick it really old school, check out some of mr. rogers’ best episodes, field trips, and other highlights at http://pbskids.org/rogers/videos/index.html. becoming mindful and intentional about what you are taking in can do nothing but improve the quality of that which you see on screens.
few will argue with the reality that we are largely what we ingest. once, after a day of drinking pepto bismol, someone i know ate some oreos. when he threw up, the pink and brown told the story.
if we were to take a look at what the images we ingest create within us, what would we find? would we find respect, thoughtfulness, and love or would we find capricious lack of care, violence of every kind, and pies thrown in faces? humor doesn’t have to be base to be funny. intensity does not require beyond the pale explicitness to be communicated and intimacy does not demand skin to be effectively demonstrated. by taking responsibility for that which we watch we can change our insides which motivates external change of all sorts. and this is how movements are begun...with small acts, taken by individuals, lived out boldly into our communities and neighborhoods. where we can be still. where we can be engaged. where we can listen and hold a gaze. where we can see...and be seen.