In the new movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a biopic about Fred Rogers starring Tom Hanks, there is a scene where one of the main characters of the film, Lloyd, first encounters Mister Rogers on the set of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. The crew is in the middle of filming an episode. In this scene, Mister Rogers is giving all of his attention to a child who seems distressed or upset, with his parents standing next to their son, unsure what to do. Mister Rogers attention is glued to this boy, and the entire production is stopped, with everyone patiently waiting for Mister Rogers to finish whatever it is he is trying to accomplish. Lloyd, slightly confused, walks over to a staff member to enquire if this is normal. The staff member, somewhat sarcastically, responds that it is, and that often Fred will devote large chunks of time to people, delaying the production of the show. In researching this scene, I have discovered that this was a true characteristic of Fred Rogers. He would drop everything to give attention to people, regardless of what else may have been deemed important by others. In our world of fast paced, instant gratification and idolization of “success”, what a challenge it is to recognize what our priorities are, and how we share them with others.
Now, I should clarify that there are many layers to this scene and I do not have space to give it justice here. As a father of a 2 and 5 year old, we are biased fans of Mister Rogers in the O’Connell household, so needless to say I have been thinking about Mister Rogers a lot. If you come to our office there is even a framed picture of him on the wall. This scene was, yet again, a humbling challenge from Mister Rogers. How often social media encourages me to feel like I am not doing enough; or look good enough; or am helpful or innovative or creative enough. How often the need to respond to e-mails or text messages crowds my thought process throughout the day. How often entertainment from television or movies steals my attention and time. How often the demands of being a worker, friend, brother, son, husband and father (insert your own identity description here) leave me emotionally tired. Where do my priorities stand? Where is the priority for others? Where am I offering myself value? What is left?
I wonder if you ever feel this way sometimes? Do you ever feel like the expectations that surround you are overwhelming, or that you can’t squeeze anything else into your day? That no matter what you do, there is always a little voice of self doubt or criticism whispering in your ear? What do you have to do in those moments to make sure you’re loved or safe? Do you get angry or controlling? Do you hide in your bed, or escape with some mindless Facebook or other distraction? How do others react to you when you react in this way? How does it make you feel about yourself or your relationships? I know that in these moments, I am not my best self, and I give in just a little to these lies, and this reflects out in a big way.
Perhaps we can take a simple lesson from Mister Rogers, to slow things down. Sometimes just that little bit of self awareness can lead us to great outcomes. It is not an easy thing to do with the steady drumbeat of obligations in life - but it is becoming increasingly important. In that moment of slow down (maybe to drink a cup of coffee, stare out a window, or just take a breath) we can ask ourselves a simple question - Where do I find joy in this moment? Joy leads us towards an understanding of gratitude and appreciation. Joy does not simply mean “where am I most happy” but means, in this I rejoice. Joy may even help us to find orientation within times of pain. So, if we slow things down and take a moment - where is joy calling you to focus right now?