I loved watching my children with Mr. Rogers. He was the epitome of a non-anxious presence.
He wasn’t a televangelist, but he had a television ministry. He encouraged children to think to pay attention, to use their imagination–he was a wonderful storyteller. He encouraged children to ask questions. His list of goals included the development of a child’s sense of safety, self-worth and self-control. He was working to promote racial and cultural diversity long before multiculturalism became a household word.
He had a gift: he understood a child’s mind. He never talked down to children. He helped them to learn how to cooperate, to be patient and compassionate. He taught tolerance. Children trusted Mr. Rogers.
Howdy Doody, while often amusing, was crude. Claribel the clown was often squirting someone with the seltzer bottle, and people were bopping one another over the head and falling down. Not very good modeling for children. Entertaining, sure, but without redeeming moral purpose.
Then along came Sesame Street, and while attempting to be educational and multicultural, it’s frantically fast-paced, adding to a child’s sense that every second must be wildly entertaining or boredom will set in.
The U.S. Diplomat, John Brady Kiesling, grew up a little before Mr. Rogers, but somewhere along the line he developed the kind of moral compass that broadened his neighborhood beyond the narrow borders of the country for whom he worked. You may have heard that he resigned from his job this week, writing a powerful letter to his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell.
He said, in part, “The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon.” He wrote about the ‘systematic distortion of intelligence and manipulation of American opinion,’ saying that it is ‘at its worst since our misguided war in Vietnam.’ I was stunned by his articulate summary of the problems we’re creating.
He assured the Secretary that he has ‘enormous respect’ for Mr. Powell’s character and ability, saying, “You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves.” Then, after referring to the Administration’s ‘swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies’ he said, “But your loyalty to the President goes too far.’ Kiesling spoke for many of us in this letter of resignation.
Kiesling’s letter came on the heels of Senator Robert Byrd’s compelling comments in a recent speech on the Senate Floor. Byrd said, “To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. As this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war. Yet this Chamber is, for the most part, silent–ominously, dreadfully silent…paralyzed by our own uncertainty.“
Echoing Kiesling’s comments Byrd said, “This Administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, and name calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders…calling heads of state pygmies and denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant…these crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good.” Fatherly comments to which I must say Amen!
This is a difficult time for our nation. Our own democracy is being put to the test. It’s a difficult time for our children every day they hear talk of impending war, and they worry. The media is fostering fear. The loss of Mr. Rogers last week is a sad reminder of the integrity, honor, sensitivity and intelligence he personified, which our country too often lacks in this difficult time. I hope you are able to find peace in your heart.