As a child growing up in 1980s Britain, I learned my earliest lessons from an obnoxious yellow bully with a zip-mouth, a cowardly pink hippo, and a man with an eye-watering taste in jumpers. Yes, Rainbow, boys and girls.

This explains rather more about me than I’d like.

Although American kids were educated by a man with equally questionable knitwear, inside that woollen carapace was a fountain of kindness and wisdom. I’m talking about children’s TV legend Mister Rogers.

At the age of 39, I may have discovered Mister Rogers late in life. But I’m sure the neighbourly telly hero would have agreed that it’s better to learn late than to never learn at all.

Fred Rogers walked his talk, teaching wise lessons not just in words, but with his deeds and presence. His genuineness is why children across America loved and respected him – and many still enjoy the show as grown-ups.

So, here are a 5 pieces of wisdom from Mister Rogers for both young and old to enjoy:

“There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”

With more than 30 years on TV, over 40 honorary doctorates, and millions of adoring fans, Mister Rogers knew about success. In his acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Emmy, Mister Rogers asked the audience to join him in thinking of the people who’d helped them succeed. This powerful act had people in floods of grateful tears; he kindly used his huge ‘podium moment’ to make others feel good.

Yes, you can be successful just by being kind and wise. Dalai Lama. Photo by David Orban.

Think about the successful people you truly respect. Groundbreaking people who improve the world do so through caring enough about others to actually do it.

And each single act of kindness helps to bring more happiness into the world. Just holding the door open for someone, saying “thank you”, or smiling can make a stranger’s day better. It may sound trite, but it’s actually true.

“Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness.”

People remember Mister Rogers as unruffled and saintlike. But, as a kid, Fred Rogers was bullied and lonely. He started playing the piano as a way to release his sadness and he created puppet friends for comfort.

On his show, he taught kids to talk about their feelings and use paints, plasticine, and play to let emotions out. This healthy expression contradicted western society at the time, which often directed kids to suppress their emotions, to be ‘strong’ by not crying or to be puritanically stoic.

It takes real strength to acknowledge our not-so-pleasant feelings, but it is healthier for us. Only when these emotions are felt and faced can we then channel them into helpful outlets. Otherwise, we bury them only for them to resurface in damaging ways later down the line.

“Deep down we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.”

Mister Rogers’ ambition wasn’t to be a children’s presenter. He studied music, then was set on a career in the church. But dismayed to see ‘demeaning’ nonsense on the TV, when it could be a tool for teaching, he decided to change things – from the inside.

Photo by Dr Francois S. Clemmons, CC BY-SA 4.0 

His TV show helped kids through growing up, covering the things that really affect them, from fears about visiting the doctor to divorce. He promoted inclusivity, sharing the screen with black actors and disabled kids at a time when exclusion was still rife.

Even when we sacrifice our ambitions a little to help other people, we never sacrifice our happiness. Helping others is enormously rewarding, and if we have a more effective way to do it than we first thought, we can not only help more people, but are likely to be more happy.

Holding this attitude of being effective rather than just doing things we want also gives us the discipline to achieve huge long-term goals, rather than small, less satisfying, ones.

“You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.”

If you watched Mister Rogers Neighbourhood, you’ll likely recognise this quotation. It was a mantra Fred Rogers used to give kids self-esteem.

People get really worried about being ‘different’. But if you were exactly like everyone else, your existence would have little value. You’d just be a robot wearing skin. Every person’s fingerprints are different and we don’t seek to change that. So, why don’t we accept that each human being has a unique body and brain too?

If we stopped using made-up societal ideals, we’d realise that people don’t have flaws, just differences. Since our differences make us special, we should prize them. And we can like and accept ourselves, and each other, for being unique just as we are.

People get very confused about this, thinking it means you shouldn’t try to be ‘better’. But it simply means accepting yourself as you are today and trying your best at being the best ‘you’. That’s actually how you grow – acceptance is the fertiliser.

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”

Mister Rogers and Daniel Striped Tiger

Mister Rogers didn’t care about the ‘cool’ factor. His trademark cardigans were knitted by his mother and he wore them to show his love and gratitude to her. He used old-fashioned hand-puppets and song to teach children – even through the fluorescent 80s and the gunge-tank 90s. He never used gimmicks or followed trends.

Mister Rogers just was thoroughly who he honestly was; a kind, music-loving man who wanted to help kids grow up mentally healthy. And by being that, he helped millions of children to feel safe and comforted as they grew up.

It is hard to truly be yourself in a society that first asks us to conform and share. Then it tells us to compete, measure ourselves against others, and strive for achievement (whether we care about the goal or not). How very confusing!

But the most brave and powerful thing in the world is to be yourself rather than seek approval by being something you’re not. When you are truly yourself, you shine. Perhaps the most difficult thing is to know who we truly are when we strip away all our masks. But Mister Rogers had an answer for that, too…

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

We don’t become our true selves by adding more, but by taking away who we are not. Sometimes our society and difficult experiences make us so insecure that we think we are protecting ourselves by becoming cynical, aggressive, or selfish. Other times, we try too hard to be what we think we ‘should’ be, becoming perfectionistic, too hard on ourselves, and not giving ourselves internal credit for doing our best.

We only trap ourselves when we let the tough times mould us into who we are not. When we conquer the fake aspects of ourselves, we rediscover our true natures, an effortless ‘being’.

We know deep down that life is not about ‘things’ or ‘doing’, but about ‘being’. We just seem to sense that is the truth. To put it another way, the great ‘things’ that people ‘do’ all come from their ‘being’. That’s who Mister Rogers was. And that’s why, he sang:

“I hope that you’ll remember, Even when you’re feeling blue, That it’s you I like, It’s you yourself, It’s you.”

Copyright 1971 Fred. M. Rogers WiseistWise LivingWise MindWise Wordsbeing yourself,emotions,kindness,making the most of your life,manage your emotions,mister rogers,mister rogers quotations,mister rogers quotes,mister rogers wisdom,self worth,self-esteem,success,wise quotations,wise quotes,wise wordsAs a child growing up in 1980s Britain, I learned my earliest lessons from an obnoxious yellow bully with a zip-mouth, a cowardly pink hippo, and a man with an eye-watering taste in jumpers. Yes, Rainbow, boys and girls. This explains rather more about me than I'd like. Although American...Using Wisdom To Improve Your Life