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Words Matter: Trump Tweets but Mister Rogers Comforts

Published in ChiagoNow, November 6, 2017

When we were attacked on September 11, 2001, I was the director of Cherry Preschool. After making it through that awful day, I knew I had to find words to guide and comfort the parents of 200 young children. In that simpler twitter-less and Facebook-free era, I turned to Fred Rogers for words of wisdom. He was a man who understood that, especially for children, words matter.

I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood with my kids growing up, and he always knew just what to say about most things that frightened children. In his kind voice, wearing that famous cardigan sweater, he reminded parents that,

“Children aren’t responsible for wars. The least, and the best, we adults can do is to let our children know that we’ll take good care of them, no matter what.“

After the Twin Towers fell and planes hit the Pentagon and crashed in Pennsylvania, he didn’t encourage folks to hate terrorists or ban Muslims. Instead, he gently said,

“If you grew up with our Neighborhood, you may remember how we sometimes talked about difficult things. There were days … even beautiful days … that weren’t happy. In fact, there were some that were really sad. Well, we’ve had a lot of days like that in our whole world. We’ve seen what some people do when they don’t know anything else to do with their anger.
I’m convinced that when we help our children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings — ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else — we’re helping to make our world a safer, better place… I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe and to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods.”

In his response to the terrorist who killed eight people with a truck in New York City, I wish @realdonaldtrump would stop tweeting things like,

  • “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”

  • “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”

  • “NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!”

I wish he wouldn’t tell his cabinet that our criminal justice system is “a joke” and “a laughingstock.” I wish he wouldn’t say things like “this animal” should go to the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and be executed ASAP. Trump tells us to get tougher and stronger. He demands quick justice. While I think the man who mowed down innocent cyclists in NYC should face our justice system, I wish Trump would choose his words more carefully and offer reassurance rather than raw anger.

Mr. Rogers shared this about anger and violence,

“It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”

In many of his speeches, Fred Rogers told his audience,

“All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are?”

If you are reading this, please stop for ten seconds to honor the memory of Mr. Rogers. Wrap yourself in a cardigan sweater, change into your comfortable shoes, and hum to yourself the lullaby Fred Rogers wrote for us parents to sing to our children, especially in these troubled times:

I’m taking care of you

Taking good care of you

For once I was very little too

Now I take care of you.

What we need these days, especially in light of the rash of mass murders grabbing headlines and frightening our children, is to be less angry and more reassuring. I wish our president chose his words more carefully and tried to bring comfort rather than fanning the flames of fear, hatred, and anger, especially for our children. I wish he would pause before he posts his tweets to remember what Mr. Rogers shared.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”


by Laurie Levy
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