02 Dec “What is Essential is Invisible to the Eyes” and Other Things Fred Rogers Knew
by Angie Williams
I grew up watching Mister Rogers. Perhaps some of you did, too. But I have not reflected on the lessons of his television show until recently. Ahead of the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, there have been several excellent profiles about the man who touched millions of children’s lives with his kind demeanor and profound grasp of humanity. He spoke directly to children about the joys and the challenges of their experiences. He gently but consistently emphasized the importance of children acknowledging and talking about their feelings in order to understand themselves and the world around them.
There is a new, 10-episode podcast called Finding Fred, which explores the themes and methods of his show. I listened to the first episode last night entitled, A Genius of Empathy. The host and guests discussed how Fred Rogers was able to teach children about empathy—a pretty tricky emotional concept even for adults—by, again, recognizing the feelings children have, helping them understand that feelings are universal, and giving them words and ideas to help them manage their feelings. (If you haven’t listened to his song, “What do you do with the mad you feel?”, it’s a great example of this.)
We know—and Fred Rogers knew—that the social and emotional development of children is paramount to their overall wellbeing as well as their ability to be a “good neighbor,” which is what we hope all of our children will be.
The depth of his thinking is something that I can appreciate only now as an adult. The following paragraph of one article stood out to me:
“L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” That was Fred’s favorite quote. He had it framed and hanging on a wall in his office. “What is essential is invisible to the eyes,” from Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.” “It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls,” he once said, expounding on the idea in a speech. “It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff. … What is essential about you that is invisible to the eyes?”
These are deep thoughts for both adults and children, and I love that Mister Rogers reminded children that there is something essential within them that they can love and share. When I reflect on the message within those words, I think of what an amazing privilege it is to engage in the life of a child as a parent, and for our teaching staff, as caregivers and educators. It is such an honor (and a responsibility!) to help children discover the essential parts of themselves—those interests and traits that make them who they are and connect them to life and the world in a positive way. Once again, as Fred notes, “the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.” How lucky we are to share that lesson with children and watch it grow within them.