Lessons Learned from Mister Rogers
Podcast #23 — Aired April 10, 2014

Mister Rogers always said, “I like you just the way you are.” This week on BetterWorldians Radio we’ll talk about the lessons learned from Mister Rogers by children and adults, alike. Our guests are filmmaker Benjamin Wagner (Mister Rogers and Me) and author Amy Hollingsworth (The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers). Wagner and Hollingsworth will discuss their personal friendships with Fred Rogers and his legacy of kindness and love. Tune in every week to hear new guests share how they are making the world a better place and to learn how you can become a BetterWorldian!

 

 

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Amy Hollingsworth
Author, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers
Author, Holy Curiosity

Amy Hollingsworth is the author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, the story of her longtime friendship with Mister Rogers and the simple faith he shared with all of his neighbors. Hollingsworth is also author of Gifts of Passage: What the Dying Tell Us with the Gifts They Leave Behind, Holy Curiosity, and most recently, Letters from the Closet. Before writing books, Hollingsworth wrote for various magazines and was a writer for eight years for a national television program. She holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a bachelor’s degree in both English and psychology. Hollingsworth was named one of USA Today’s Top 100 People of 2010 for her influence on pop culture and featured in the documentary by MTV News VP/producer Benjamin Wagner titled “Mister Rogers & Me.”

Benjamin Wagner
Filmmaker, Mister Rogers and Me
Senior Vice President, MTV News

Benjamin Wagner first met “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” creator and star, Fred Rogers, at his summer home on Nantucket, Massachusetts. His mother rented the cottage next door, so Mister Rogers really was his neighbor. After Rogers’ death in 2003, Wagner and his brother, Christofer, set out to meet some of Mister Rogers’ neighbors to find out more about the man himself. What resulted is the film Mister Rogers and Me. Benjamin graduated from Syracuse University with dual degrees in creative writing and journalism. He is currently Senior Vice President at MTV News. Benjamin is also a performing singer/songwriter with twelve independent albums.

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
We have two great guests joining us today, each of whom enjoyed a personal friendship with Mister Rogers. First, Id like to introduce you to Benjamin Wagner. Benjamin first met Mister Rogers Neighborhood creator and star, Fred Rogers, at his summer home on Nantucket, Massachusetts. His mother rented the cottage next door, so Mister Rogers was really his neighbor. After Rogers death in 2003, Wagner and his brother, Christofer, set out to meet some of Mister Rogers neighbors to find out more about the man himself. And what resulted is a magnificent documentary film, Mister Rogers and Me. Benjamin graduated from Syracuse University with dual degrees in creative writing and journalism. He is currently Senior Vice President at MTV News. Benjamin is also a performing singer/songwriter with twelve independent albums. Benjamin, its so great to have you join us today on BetterWorldians Radio.

Benjamin Wagner
Well, thanks, it's a pleasure to be here.

Raymond Hansell
As I mentioned just before the show, I saw your documentary and said this has got to be something we got to tell the BetterWorldians about. So, to start out, tell us about the first time that you met Mister Rogers.

Benjamin Wagner
Sure, well, as you said in your set-up, my mother has rented a place on Nantucket for years as a place to, you know, restore the soul. And at the time she was actually working on her MSA and was sitting out on the beach behind the cottage on the day reading some Martin Buber or some text that I wouldn't know. And she relates to me later that day in a phone call, you know, you'll never guess who walked by and said hello. Well, sure enough, it was Mister Rogers, who, of course, is an ordained Presbyterian minister and could go very deep and very long on any theological text and did. So they struck up a fast friendship and, as parents are want to do, as I now know as a parent of two young daughters, you know, she immediately turned to talk about her kids in their conversation. He was, by the way, on his way for his afternoon swim. Every day, in Pittsburgh and in Nantucket, he would go for a swim and he would swim a couple miles in the bay there. So, anyway, she told Fred all about my brother and me and then immediately proceeded to say to me on the phone that night, you really have to get out here, you'll never believe who our neighbor is, and I've told him all about you and he's dying to meet you. And so I did. A couple of weeks later I came out to visit and, you know, I mean, I don't know, it's tough for me to quickly tell what the experience was like, but in a nutshell, I'll tell you what the initial experience was like because it was an interesting dichotomy. This was at a time when Blackberries were new devices, but I had one because I was a young burgeoning executive. And I had just gone off the ferry and I was still basically working and my head was still halfway between New York City and Nantucket, and the sun was setting and I was on the back patio alone and it's my 30th birthday, it's 2001. From the corner of the dune - this is just a very quiet part of Nantucket, I mean, not that Nantucket as a whole isn't a very quiet little island. But it's a very quiet, very wild little part of Nantucket. The streets are sand, there's not a lot of - the traffic lights are six miles, etcetera. And so it's pretty calming. And from the corner of the dune I hear is the birthday boy here? And I turn and there he is. And, I mean, just me and him. Sorry, go ahead.

Raymond Hansell
So he greeted you as a birthday boy right away?

Benjamin Wagner
Yeah, right off the bat. That was literally the expression. And we talked for a minute and he said, well, you and your mother really must come over for a lemonade and meet Joanne tomorrow and I'll give you a little tour of the house. And that's how it started.

Raymond Hansell
M-hmm. Tell us about the words that he expressed about this concept of Deep and Simple.

Benjamin Wagner
Sure. Well, the next afternoon I trudged across the dunes with my guitar slung over my shoulder to, you know, he's, as you know, a very talented pianist, as is his wife, Joanne, and songwriter. And so we shared music and I was going to share with him some songs from an album I was about to put out. So went across and we shared a glass of lemonade and he gave me a tour of the house. There were probably 2 or 3 pivotal moments that really, I don't know, were magical. I mean, the whole thing is magical. I mean, a little like stepping through the TV screen or having the TV screen step through into your real life. So it was kind of otherworldly to begin with. The first real moving instance was I was sitting in his back study, he was actually showing me a website he was working on for The Neighborhood - even though he had just wrapped up The Neighborhood, he was thinking about what to do next - and he asked me about my parents' divorce. My mom was on Nantucket alone. My parents, at that point, had probably been divorced, I don't know, 15 years. He said to me something to the effect of, so Benjamin, your mother doesn't often speak of your father, you know, tell me about your parents' divorce. How that made you feel. And this is not the kind of question your average human being asks within 30 minutes of really meeting. It would have been moving enough if it was a stranger but it was extra moving that it was a stranger that already came with an inordinate degree of trust and safety and confidence based on what I knew of him from his television program growing up. So we talked about that a little bit. It was pretty moving and beautiful and it's recounted in the film. And then later on the back porch he asked me, this is overlooking the bay, beautiful, tranquil bay where he swam, he said to me, so, you know, your mother tells me you work for MTV. And I think to myself, here it comes, you know. I mean, this is at a time when, you know, the Internet is nascent, MTV is one of few disruptive elements in culture; whereas, I would argue, in 2014 you can't count the amount of disruptions in culture, and if you can, you're going to have to add a couple dozen the next 5 minutes. So I, you know, wasn't really sure where he was going to be coming from, but I told him that I work for MTV News. That as a teenager, in particularly, moving through my parents' divorce both song writing and listening to music and relating to musicians as expressers of inner discord, if you will - I don't think I used that language, that might be how I think of it now - but music as a means of expressing and working through the human struggle, that that was what moved me and that was why I do what I do and that's what meant so much to me about MTV News, and it really, at the time in particular, was one of very few places that did that with the credibility of CNN or a Rolling Stone, but in a pop culture space. It was in a way that is pervasive now but didn't really exist 12 and 15 and 20 years ago. And so we basically entered in a conversation about culture and values, and he said to me, in context to MTV and in context to an author friend of his who he loved dearly named Bo Lozoff who you also meet in the film, he said to me, you know, I feel so strongly that Deep and Simple is far more essential than Shallow and Complex. And it kind of just hung in the air. We didn't really unpack it. I later, as you know from seeing the film, used it as a point of departure to find out what he meant by that and sought folks like Amy, you know, went to meet Bo Lozoff, interviewed Tim Russert, who was a neighbor of the Rogers' on Nantucket, and really try and dig in to what I think he meant by that phrase, because by the time I started making the movie he wasn't alive to answer the question for me.

Raymond Hansell
I see. Now you open your film, Mister Rogers and Me, with this quote:  There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.  What did Mister Rogers leave with you?

Benjamin Wagner
You know, I imagine Amy, I mean, certainly I expect Amy will say the same, which is the greatest inspiration comes from folks who see something in yourself prior to you seeing it in yourself; and I'm not sure I even do fully. But one of the things that I feel like I always knew intuitively, or that I always valued intuitively, was relationship and knowing that they all mattered, not just the ones that made the headlines like your parents or your best friend or your teachers. I sort of modeled very early in my father. I'm from Iowa, so there are strong Midwestern values, and my parents were both born and raised. I think it's a bit of an Iowa thing for my dad, but I can remember going through the toll booth with him, you know, and we lived in Chicago and he would make small talk with the person at the toll booth. I thought to myself in the backseat, like, dude, this is not that kind of relationship. Toss a quarter and keep on trucking, right? And so what was an early learning there is, that really Fred blew wide open for me and one of the reasons why that quote is so meaningful to me, is to really realize that, first of all, you know, he could have just tossed off the casual meeting with the kid who came over from the neighbor, you know, the neighbor's house, right? He could have done the interview with Amy for CBN in the '80s and that would have been that, or Tim Madigan for the Fort Worth Telegram, or any of a panoply of people who I come to find over the years had a, what would have otherwise been a brief encounter with a notable figure, and it could have just been, oh, I got a selfie with Mister Rogers. But that's not how he treated people. You know, the person in front of him was the only thing that mattered at that moment. And it's very difficult for us to do because of our own personal distractions, because the distractions of the world, and it's also, we're also gosh darn self-absorbed that we don't take the time to ask the toll-taker how they're doing. And so you see how I connect those two points. Mister Rogers made me feel more present in dialogue with him on that afternoon than I maybe had felt ever prior with anyone. And so there's something very meaningful in seeing that modeled. And then I saw that that had been modeled in every conversation I had with every person in the film, and all of the conversations that aren't in the film. I mean, Amy and I were just screening in Dallas the other day and a woman raised her hand and told a story about a young woman who was in a hospital and she was a nurse at the time and what Mister Rogers had done - completely off the record, he insisted no cameras - to engage that young woman. And, you know, these things plant seeds, right? These instances plant seeds. The experience that we're having right now, the experience that Amy and I had together in Dallas, the experience that woman shared with us, like, you leave something. It's your responsibility, right? We leave something with each other. And it can be positive and transformative and the kind of seed that blossoms into something meaningful and life-changing or even just edifying or it can be the opposite of that. So to me it's all of those things, you know. It's just this opportunity that we have with each other and it's ultimately, probably, the most simple elemental gift of numerous gifts that Mister Rogers gave to me that afternoon.

Raymond Hansell
That's amazing. We're going to have to take a break right now, but when we come back, well be speaking more to Benjamin about his experiences in creating the film. We'll also talk to Amy Hollingsworth, author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers.  In the meantime, Id like to offer this challenge to our listeners.  If you know someone whose small acts are making a big difference in the lives of other people, wed love to hear about them. Tweet us at HASHTAG BETTERWORLDIANS, so we can let the BetterWorldian community know.  You can learn more at BETTERWORLDIANS DOT COM, and follow our live tweets at TWITTER DOT COM SLASH BETTERWORLDIANS. Well be right back!

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Raymond Hansell
Hi, welcome back to BetterWorldians Radio.  Today were discussing Lessons Learned from Mister Rogers.  Id like to introduce you now to our next guest, Amy Hollingsworth. Amy Hollingsworth is the author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, the story of her long-time friendship with Mister Rogers and the simple faith he shared with so many of his neighbors. Amy is also author of Gifts of Passage:  What the Dying Tell Us with the Gifts They Leave Behind, Holy Curiosity, and most recently, Letters from the Closet. Before writing these books, Hollingsworth wrote for various magazines and was a writer for eight years for a national television program. She holds a masters degree in counselling, psychology and a bachelors degree in both English and psychology. Amy Hollingsworth was named one of USA's Top 100 People in 2010 for her influence on pop culture and she is prominently featured in Benjamin Wagners documentary Mister Rogers & Me. And so now let me welcome Amy and bring along MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi Amy, thanks so much for joining us today.

Amy Hollingsworth
Thank you.

MarySue Hansell
Now Amy, you began your friendship with Mister Rogers by sticking up for him.  Can you tell us about that?

Amy Hollingsworth
That's exactly right. I didn't grow up with Mister Rogers. I was out of his demographic by the time Mister Rogers' Neighborhood started to air nationally, but I discovered him, really, for the first time through the eyes of my 2-year-old son, and I was working in television at the time so I asked him for an interview. And I didn't realize at the time that he rarely gave interviews. In fact, the television program I worked for, I found out later, had tried unsuccessfully for about 20 years to get an interview with Fred and I also was asking him to talk about his faith for the first time on television, so I was asking for a lot. So I asked and I didn't hear back, I didn't hear back, I didn't hear back. Weeks passed and I was just flipping through the newspaper one afternoon and there was an op-ed piece by Don Feder and it was called "It's a Psychobabble Day in the Neighborhood." So right away you know it's not a kind piece about Mister Rogers. And I was really angry because by this time I really understood him and knew him because I watched daily with my son. So I just got out a pen and a piece of paper and I wrote Don Feder and I told him exactly what I thought about his op-ed piece and I think I finished it by saying shame on you for being so negative about somebody who's trying to do something so positive for my kids, you know. And I sent it off and I never heard back from Don Feder. But I also sent a copy to Fred's press agent along with the op-ed piece because I thought certainly they need to know what people are putting out there about Fred. And, you know, MarySue, it wasn't until I got to Pittsburgh to do the interview that I found out that it was that letter that convinced Fred Rogers that I was sincere enough to be trusted. So, in essence, he granted the interview more to Amy Hollingsworth, the mother, than he did to Amy Hollingsworth, the journalist. And so that bond of trust began the relationship that we had, and the friendship that we had, for the last 9 years of his life.

MarySue Hansell
That's a great story. You know, you also write in your book that before you met Mister Rogers you were worried that he might appear differently on TV. What was that all about?

Amy Hollingsworth
Well, that's only because I grew up with a little children's host icon in Cincinnati, where I grew up, named Uncle Al. And, you know, we heard horror stories about Uncle Al that he, you know, chased kids from his porch on Halloween night and things like that. So I did understand that sometimes people are different than how they appear. And so I was a little nervous about meeting Fred but I love, and this was my experience as well, but I love what James Caplin - he used to write for the TV Guide - said about his first encounter with Fred. And he said Mister Rogers is more Mister Rogers than Mister Rogers is. And that was my experience, too, because it's one thing to experience his presence through the television set, and his kindness and his affection, and it's a whole 'nother thing to be face-to-face with the man. So when it becomes so distinctly personal, personal to you, then he is more Mister Rogers than Mister Rogers is.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, well I'm so anxious to hear about that first interview with Mister Rogers. How did it go?

Amy Hollingsworth
You know what's really interesting, I just discovered this the other day, I did the interview in 1994, which I think was 7 years before Benjamin met Mister Rogers, but he invited us there for the weekend. He was taping a series of programs on Fast and Slow and my very first question to him I said, in this fast-paced MTV world, it seems that Mister Rogers slows his pace and takes time to reflect. And here in my very first question to Mister Rogers I'm talking about the influence of MTV, so it's really interesting that years later Benjamin would meet Mister Rogers and do this beautiful film about him. But it was wonderful. It was like a conversation. By that time, I think, we had established trust between the two of us. It was very natural. He was very forthcoming about his faith, he knew he could trust me with it, and it just was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

MarySue Hansell
Yes, that did spark a very long - did you say 9-year friendship?

Amy Hollingsworth
Yes. Yes. In fact, we became friends 9 years before he passed away. Although, he wouldn't use that term, he always says went to heaven. We were friends for the 9 years before he went to heaven and the last decade of his life.

MarySue Hansell
What did that mean to you? That must be fantastic to know this man and have intimate discussions with him.

Amy Hollingsworth
It was wonderful and I think, and I'm sure Benjamin would probably identify with this as well, I think it's one of those gifts that keeps bearing fruit long after the original encounter, even after the friendship, even after Fred passed away, I see almost daily in my life the changes that he helped to affect in my life because of his gentle, nurturing, and encouragement to me.

MarySue Hansell
Yes, it was so peaceful to see him and how he would go slowly and it would really calm a soul down, didn't it?

Amy Hollingsworth
It did. And that's not a natural thing. I really try to emphasize this when I tell people this. That's something he cultivated, you know. He spent a lot of time, when he got up first thing in the morning he would pray, he would read, he would think about the people that he loved, and so there was this really intentional time of his day where he cultivated what the rest of us would experience throughout the day, which is that sense of inner peace and presence.

MarySue Hansell
You know, I've read in your book that in your first correspondence with Mister Rogers he told you that your children were blessed to have you as a mother. That must have felt fantastic.

Amy Hollingsworth
Oh, you're going to make me cry.

MarySue Hansell
Oh.

Amy Hollingsworth
No, but you know what? That's indicative of Fred because in the encounters that I had with him, I did the interview in '94 and then I went back in '96 and spent a couple more days there, and I never heard him compliment somebody's outsides. Like, I never heard him say that's a really cute haircut, or I like your new dress, or those are fancy shoes. Maybe he did, I never heard him say that, because, to him, it was what was on the inside that was most important. And his favorite quote was from The Little Prince and that is, what is essential is invisible to the eye. And so when he saw me, he knew what was invisible in me. What was most essential about me was being a mother to young children and so that's the thing he focused on. That's the thing he asked about and that's the thing he encouraged me in because that was what was most essential to me.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, wonderful. Amy, what did you learn about faith from Mister Rogers?

Amy Hollingsworth
Gosh, how much time do you have?

MarySue Hansell
Take as much time as you need. I'm very interested about that.

Amy Hollingsworth
Probably the most important thing - and I hope I can explain this well - but this is the point, like, for example, in my corner of Christendom, when we prayed, we would say Father God, you know, which is very intimate and close. When Fred prayed he called out to the Eternal. And I think that's the biggest thing that he taught me because there's a familiarity in Father God that's not in the Eternal and it's missing for a reason. It's because Fred so respected the mystery of who God is and the mystery surrounding who God is. And I think that the thing I probably benefit the most from, or the thing that's been the most life-changing for me, is the fact that he taught me to appreciate that mystery. And I think that's probably the thing that continues to inform my spiritual life on a daily basis; although, there's a lot of other spiritual essence, but I would say probably the appreciation for mystery is what I most took away from our friendship.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, well thanks. Hi Benjamin, Id like to bring you back into the conversation, too.  You mentioned in your film, Mister Rogers and Me, that you also talked about how strongly Mister Rogers felt about one person demeaning another.  Why do you think that was so important to Mister Rogers and can you tell us a little bit about that?

Benjamin Wagner
Well I can tell you the person who most effectively shared that lesson with me is the other person on the phone and so I will give you the cliff notes and then punt.

MarySue Hansell
Okay.

Benjamin Wagner
In fact, no, I won't. I'll punt altogether and say no one can more effectively relate the story than my dear friend Amy Hollingsworth. Amy.

MarySue Hansell
Let's hear from you, Amy.

Amy Hollingsworth
Well, I think I know what he's talking about but are you talking about the bully story, Benjamin?

Benjamin Wagner
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Amy Hollingsworth
You want me to tell that?

MarySue Hansell
Sure.

Benjamin Wagner
Well, you know, the question is born of the idea of demeaning, both what is the source and how it motivated him to get into television, and these are things that, in the film, are related primarily, you know, something that is sub-textual that I try and be sure people know, particularly when we do something live, is that while our movie is broken down into, I don't know, a dozen 5- to 10-minute segments of different characters, experts, people like Tim, and Amy, and Tim Russert, etcetera, the fact is there was one person who was a consistent consultant, guide, guardian angel and encourager throughout the entire process and years later, and that is Amy Hollingsworth. She also shared with us some of the most excellent footage that existed of Mister Rogers talking about things other than the show or of things that intersected between his faith and his show. And, again, that's Amy. So I will punt again back to Amy.

Amy Hollingsworth
Now Benjamin is going to make me cry.

MarySue Hansell
You left out the part of the story about how Mister Rogers was bullied.

Amy Hollingsworth
Well, that's a story that most people don't know and the fact that he was afraid to go to school when he was younger. He was bullied and so his parents used to drive him to and from school every day. But there was one day where they were unaware that school was letting out early and so Fred started walking home and this group of boys followed after him, and so Fred walked a little faster, and then they walked a little faster and then they began running after him. And they started calling out and said we're gonna get you, Freddy. We're gonna get you, Fat Freddy. And so Fred ran and ran and ran and he was just hoping that this old widow named Mrs. Stewart who lived in the neighborhood would be there. So he ran up on her porch and he banged on her door and she opened the door and let him in. But it's what happened after that that was really the most devastating to an 8-year-old Fred Rogers, and that is the adults in his life said, you know, just act like you don't care. Just forget about it and act like you don't care. And he said even at 8 I knew that wasn't true, you know. I did care. I resented those kids for not seeing past my fatness and my shyness. And he said I used to cry through my fingers as I made up songs on the piano and he said that's where he believes he started this. Well, there was a lot of sadness but he said I began this lifelong search for what is essential, what is it about my neighbor that doesn't meet the eye? And as I told Benjamin during our meeting that's recorded in Mister Rogers & Me, I really believe that's the day Mister Rogers was born because he made a commitment that day that he would always lift up. And that's, you know, that's the BetterWorldian mantra is uplift and inspire. He would always uplift his neighbor and never demean his neighbor. And so, like the seeds that Benjamin was talking about, that seed was planted in him that day because he could have turned into a bully himself and he chose not to. He chose to begin a lifelong search for what is essential in the people around me.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah, it's so important because there's so much bullying going on today; cyber bullying and bullying in schools and things like that. The work of Mister Rogers is so important there. Amy, Ive heard it said that Mister Rogers was so successful at reaching people because he was so in touch with his inner child. In what ways did you see that displayed?

Amy Hollingsworth
You know, I didn't - Benjamin probably can answer that better than I can because Mister Rogers reached out to the inner child in Benjamin.

MarySue Hansell
Okay.

Benjamin Wagner
Yeah. Aren't we cute? We just keep pitching back and forth?

MarySue Hansell
Switching on me. That's okay.

Benjamin Wagner
Our little mutual admiration, per se.

MarySue Hansell
I love it. I love it.

Benjamin Wagner
You know, I think probably the most childlike thing I saw in him, there were two instances and it's worth noting and I really do try to amplify this, that my exposure to Mister Rogers was very limited, could be counted in an amount of hours. His impact on my life is enormous in relation to that, which is telling. But in that first afternoon that I spent with him, right after talking about my parents' divorce, he said something just very simple and very empathic that put me at great ease. We didn't go very deep into it but he turned over to his piano and played Happy Birthday for me. And man, and Amy, I'm sure you saw this too, he had this twinkle in his eye, you know. You can hear it in the way I'm talking; I'm smiling telling you about it. It was enormously playful and light and joyful. I guess that was, to me, one of the best examples I could give. He also, you know, there were no iPhones to take selfies or Instagram to post them to, but, nonetheless, I was with Mister Rogers so you bet your bottom dollar I wanted a photo for my scrapbook, right? And thank goodness because I don't know what I would have put in the movie to prove that it had actually happened without it. But not only did my mother take a picture of Mister Rogers and me but Mister Rogers loved taking pictures of people himself, so he got out his camera and took photos of me and Mrs. Rogers and my mother, etcetera, so he loved turning the cameras. And again, it was very playful and joyful.

Amy Hollingsworth
And I would add to that that I did see him, I mean, or hear him interact with my own children. They were 3 and 1 when I first met Fred and they did, when they were a little bit older, talk to him on the telephone. And I remember hearing my son say I'm going to be a detective when I grow up, you know. So Fred said, hey, Jonathan, what are you going to be when you grow up? And then my daughter, Emily, gets on the phone and says heya Fred. And, of course, I was mortified. He probably thought it was delightful. And she was the kid who hated doctors and dentists when she was a toddler and they would feel her knees reflex whether she wanted them, you know, whether they wanted to or not. And so I read to her Fred's book, Going to the Dentist, and we went through it and she went to the dentist and she didn't kick the hygienist or anything. And so I wrote Fred and I said, oh, your book worked miracles. So what does he do? He autographs a copy and sends it to Emily. But he doesn't want my son Jonathan to feel left out so he picks out another book and autographs it and sends it to him.

Raymond Hansell
That sounds like a perfect anecdote from Mr. Rogers. We're going to have to take another break, folks. When we come back, we're going to be talking more with Amy Hollingsworth and Benjamin Wagner. And in the meantime, well be right back!

Raymond Hansell
Were back now with Amy Hollingsworth, the author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, and Benjamin Wagner, the filmmaker behind the film Mister Rogers and Me.

Gregory Hansell
Hi Amy, hi Benjamin, this is Greg.

Amy Hollingsworth
Hi Greg.

Benjamin Wagner
Hey.

Gregory Hansell
Amy, you write in your book that Mister Rogers said that when you find someone who you know is in touch with the truth, you want to be in the presence of that person. And I wanted to ask you both, what was it like to just be in the presence of Mister Rogers?

Amy Hollingsworth
You know, it's funny because he said that. And he was telling me about that he had people in his life he felt that way about, but it certainly fits him. And I think the feeling that I got from him was just a feeling of peacefulness, this enormous calm. And I remember the second time I went to the neighborhood, I had to leave. We were in his office and I had to leave to make a phone call to check on a flight. When I came back in, the two videographers were sitting on the couch in Mister Rogers' office and they were like near tears and they were like, oh, we feel so safe and vulnerable. And, seriously, at the time, I was a little embarrassed by it, but it's because he made you feel so safe and he made you feel as if you were the only person in the world that mattered to him. And when Benjamin went through and interviewed, I think every person you interviewed, Benjamin, said that same thing. That their personal interaction with Fred made them feel like they were the most important person in the world to him at that moment.

Benjamin Wagner
Yeah, to a person. Absolutely.

Gregory Hansell
And how about you, Benjamin? How did you feel it was like to be in the presence of Mister Rogers?

Benjamin Wagner
Well, I mean, I think Amy nailed it. I mean, I just felt at ease. I mean, I generally feel at ease, but particularly at that time I maybe didn't as much. But I felt at ease, I felt safe, and safe with the stuff that, you know, you usually hide, which, again, to a person, not only would Mister Rogers - Mister Rogers would find a way to probe at that stuff gently. Typically at the stuff that, you know, as Tim Madigan, who was also at the screening Amy and I did a couple of days ago, in his book, as Tim Madigan calls the messy stuff, you know, the stuff that, we're all a mess so it's the messy stuff. It's something enormously human about owning and honoring that that exists in all of us and that it's safe, you know. That which is mentionable is manageable is how Mister Rogers put it. It's been one of the things I've endeavored to really take away, enact on the regulars but to own that mess myself but also honor it in others and let it be an okay thing. So it was a good feeling or I'm not sure Amy would have spent all those years working on the book or I would have spent all those years working on the movie. I mean, you know, you're left with a real imperative to spread that kind of goodness when it is that, well, when it is that present, when it is that great.

Gregory Hansell
M-hmm. You know, one thing comes up time and time again, I've noticed, when people talk about Mister Rogers, and I definitely saw this. I think it was outside the Smithsonian you were interviewing people, it came up a lot there, I like you just the way you are. Let me ask you, Amy, first. What does that mean to you?

Amy Hollingsworth
You know, it's interesting because at one of the, you know, this is both a positive and a negative, but one of the criticisms that I've come up against regarding Fred is that people say, well, he was too tolerant, you know. And I think they misunderstand. I don't think I'd use that. That's sort of a loaded word now. But I think the word I would use is acceptance. He was enormously accepting. But what he felt is that if you accept somebody exactly the way they are at that moment that gives them permission to grow from there. So it's not as if he accepted you the way you are and that was a stagnant relationship. He accepts you exactly the way you are, hoping and encouraging you to continue to grow. And I think that's what, especially when MarySue had asked how he affected my faith, he really did accept exactly where I was at the time, but he also, as Benjamin said, gently probed and prodded me in a different direction. And so his acceptance was complete and unconditional but he also believed that that was the permission the person needed to grow from there.

Gregory Hansell
M-hmm. And Benjamin, I know in your film you quote Mister Rogers as saying, When I say its you I like Im talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. And I wanted to put that next to "I like you just the way you are," and just ask you what that means to you.

Benjamin Wagner
Well it's the esoteric stuff, right? It's the intangible. It's the essential invisible. You know, specifically what we were trying to get at in that segment, and we use Mister Rogers' quotes to bookend segments throughout the film, was that so much of our culture is interested in stuff, right, or exteriors. So, what do you look like, how much do you weigh, what do you bench press, what are you worth? And what I, you know, this has never been a core tenet of mine personally, it's not how I was raised. And again, Fred gave me the courage and the imperative to help really the platform, I guess, to try and push on that dichotomy more broadly in culture. And so every time, you know, it's not usually the first thing that comes up, but, to me, there's an exposure of the very nature of our culture and sort of capitalist culture. I don't mean wholesale, tear it down, start over, but I mean just be wary. Just think about these things. Is acquisition what's critical or is it being a member of a community and helping each other live a richer life spiritually? I would certainly say the latter over the former and that's what we're trying to get at there.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. You know, and speaking of those depths of our interiors, I know that Mister Rogers taught children that it was okay to talk about their feelings.  And, Amy, I wanted to start with you. You know, why do you think that, you know, it was such an important part of his message?

Amy Hollingsworth
Well, I think it is because of the, you know, the story that I told earlier about when he was bullied because what was more devastating to him than the taunts of the bullies was that the people that he loved and cared about and were there to take care of him, you know, told him not to worry about it and act as if it didn't matter. And, of course, they were well-intentioned but he knew that wasn't right, you know. And so he wanted to give, felt compelled, to give other people permission to express their feelings. And the first time I met Fred, like I said, I watched the show every day with my son who was 3 at the time, and Jonathan had expressed his first real sadness after watching an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood where they talked about sad feelings. And I told Fred that. I told him that we watched the show together. I told him that within a few hours Jonathan came to me and told me he was very sad about something. Of course it was something I had done and I edited that part out of the story when I told Fred. But Fred was so amazed that he had assimilated that message so quickly and he said Jonathan's ability to express his sadness will serve him well his entire life. And Jonathan's 22 right now and he is still able to express his sadness. So I think because Fred wasn't given permission, he wanted to make sure every other child was.

Gregory Hansell
M-hmm. And Benjamin, you've already alluded to how Mister Rogers asked you about your parents' divorce and you suddenly found yourself opening up to him in a way you hadnt anticipated. You know, what do you think about that aspect, you know, of the depths?

Benjamin Wagner
Yeah, you know, even now, I'm 42 and I was 30, it was my 30th birthday when I met him. At the time I was, you know, kind of a chronic monogamist and now I'm married and I am a parent, and I think that Mister Rogers absolutely helped me along that path. I guess my point is it might sound a little silly that at 30 years old my parents' divorce 15 years, or 20 years prior, even had any kind of impact whatsoever. But in many ways it's, you know, that was the big toe-stub, as Susan Stamberg calls it in my movie, in our movie. That was one of the two big traumas and just the gentle probing and the inquiry, you know, and making the unmentionable mentionable and, ergo, manageable, set me on a path that I was already on but accelerated or amplified and gave me permission. You know, I'm not sure I'm answering your question except that it ends up being a really, and I think we alluded this in the movie when I show the picture of, I left it as subtext in the movie, but the through line is that, you know, it was almost like watering the seed or something, or maybe even just like turning over the soil, if I can overextend the metaphor, or drive it into the ground, as it were. But there was some kind of permission in asking the question and allowing it to be out there and okay that was significant and I just, like, the most amazingly courageous, simple, small moment of courage for him, right. And he wouldn't call it that. But, to me, there's something amazingly courageous about meeting someone and finding a way to get at literally the deepest, darkest corner in a way that feels enormously comfortable, safe, and manageable. I mean, that's like a miracle, you know?

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, that is incredible. You know, Amy, I know you mentioned during the break that you, in one of your last conversations, maybe your last with Mister Rogers, you asked him in his last broadcast, if he had one more broadcast what message would he share. Why don't you go ahead and tell us about that?

Amy Hollingsworth
Yeah, I said, you know, if you had one final broadcast, one final opportunity, to address your television neighbors and you can share the single most important lesson of your life, what would you say? And this is what he said. I would want those who were listening somehow to know that they had unique value and that there isn't anybody in the whole world exactly like them and that there never has been and there never will be, and that they were loved by the Person - capital P - they were loved by the Person who created them in a unique way. If they could know that and really know it and have that behind their eyes, they could look with those eyes on their neighbor and realize my neighbor has unique value too. There's never been anyone in the whole world like my neighbor and there never will be. If they could value that person, if they could love that person in ways that we know that the Eternal loves us, then I would be very grateful.

Gregory Hansell
That's amazing. You know, a quote that really struck me, as a guy, that I wanted to kind of end the segment with and get answers from both of you, we have about 3 and a half minutes left, the quote was, "When I was a boy I used to think that strong meant having big muscles, great physical power; but the longer I live, the more I realize that real strength has much more to do with what is not seen. Real strength has to do with helping others." So, just on top of what you just said, how do you think that Mister Rogers, Amy, helped make it a better world?  And I have about a minute or so for you and about a minute or so for Benjamin.

Amy Hollingsworth
Well, one of the things that he told me is that the best thing that you can offer someone is your honest self. And I think that he made the world a better place by doing that every single day on his program and every single day in his life. He offered everyone around him his honest self. And that's something that I've taken away from him and that I hope others will take away. That the best gift you can give another person is your honest self.

Benjamin Wagner
It gets back to the quote from the beginning of the movie, right, Amy? Give something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person. I would say the same thing and so I guess I would just extend my metaphor and say that, secondarily, the best gift he gave in modeling that behavior is the potential for anyone who either experienced it directly, person-to-person in a relationship with him or via the television, to then, if you'll excuse the expression, pay that forward. And so, that he said to me, spread the message. I take every opportunity I can to have these conversations because if 10 listeners then become, you know, multiplied by 10 and so on and so on, then you've got some potential real change there, right? You know, millions of small increments of change can really add up to something pretty profound.

Gregory Hansell
Well thank you both. This has been a real pleasure. I appreciate it.

Amy Hollingsworth
Thank you so much.

Benjamin Wagner
Thank you.

Raymond Hansell
Benjamin, I'd just like to point out that in your film, and as Amy also points out in her book, Mister Rogers had a profound appreciation for silence.  So in gratitude of the gift of Mister Rogers here today on our BetterWorldians Radio Show, I'd like to take this opportunity to take a moment of silence in gratitude to what he did to make this a better world.

Amy Hollingsworth
Thank you.

Benjamin Wagner
Thank you, guys.

Raymond Hansell
You guys are great. It's an amazing story and you guys were blessed, and today we've shared that blessing with all the other folks on the BetterWorldians Radio Show. Please join us next week on BetterWorldians Radio. We have an excellent line-up of guests in the coming weeks, and if you know an unsung BetterWorldian who would make a great guest on our show, you can send us an email at RADIO AT BETTERWORLDIANS DOT COM. Wed like to thank everyone today for listening. You can join the BetterWorldians Community at BETTERWORLDIANS DOT COM. And until next time, everybody please be a BetterWorldian!