In response to last week’s post, several readers wrote me to point out an error. I incorrectly wrote, “Mr. Rogers invited the postman, Mr. McFeely, to come soak his feet in his pool.”
In reality, he invited Officer Clemmons. Mr. McFeely is white while Officer Clemmons is African-American – not a minor point considering Mr. Rogers was trying to make a statement about integrating public pools.
My initial instinct was to hope no one else noticed and ignore it.
Ultimately, guilt made me own up to my mistake, email the readers who pointed out the error and send this mea culpa. The net result was not only a personal relief but also some excellent exchanges with readers – even netting a book recommendation. What originally felt threatening instead felt liberating.
A few weeks earlier, my middle daughter had given me a master class in apologies. Around bedtime, she had completely lost her cool about something that seemed trivial at the time. She said some hurtful and hateful things, including that I was “the worst Dad ever” and she “never wanted to read with me again.” Both of which stung, especially since we’ve been having an absolutely awesome time reading a book series called The Unwanteds every night for months. She ran into her room crying, slamming the door.
Several minutes later, a notebook came sliding out from under said slammed door. In her two-page note, she walked me through every nook and cranny of what she was feeling and why she acted the way she did. I went into her room, her apologetic words in my proud hand, to tell her how brave it was to share her feelings so directly and purely. I asked if we could read theUnwanteds and so we did.
In the spirit of President’s Day, both examples, reflect these words from Lincoln:
My old Father used to have a saying that ‘If you make a bad bargain, hug it all the tighter.’
Owning our mistakes has always been hard, but it seems even harder today. We don’t allow much space for forgiveness.
Saying sorry, admitting when you’re wrong. These are really, really hard things. Yet we put every potential apology through the lens of judgment instead of understanding. A world that seems more about gotcha, than “I get you.”
The problem is that when we don’t feel safe to own our mistakes, both parties suffer. Apologies come either half-baked or not at all. And no one is able to move on.
There is something poetic about the imagery of hugging our mistakes all the tighter. Just imagine, if we could all hug ours as tightly as a nine-year-old.
Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.
Consider these three stories:
A couple in Newton Massachusetts give birth to a daughter who is deaf. In response, twenty of their neighbors learn sign language and have been speaking to that child regularly for the last two years. Rather than having to travel hours away to learn how to sign at a school for the deaf, the little girl is able to stay in her community and learn by signing with her family and friends.
In my town, Hastings-on-Hudson, the high school wanted to put on a production of Hairspray. The play is homage to diversity, acceptance and integration. Because the student body isn’t itself diverse racially, they invited students from nearby towns Yonkers, Stamford and the Bronx to join their cast. The show is a hit – on every imaginable level.
In the recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, there is a scene recounting when Mr. Rogers invited the postman, Mr. McFeely, to come soak his feet in his pool. This is a response to the resistance at the time to allowing African Americans to swim in the same public pools as their white neighbors. This decent man in a small public television studio in Pittsburgh transmitted a powerful signal to the country.
The origin of the word neighbor comes from combining an old English word “neah” meaning “near” and the Germanic word “bheue” meaning “to be, exist, grow.”
Together they suggest something so elemental to our existence – the importance of connecting with those around us in order to grow or add meaning to our lives.
There is an oft-cited phrase that fences make good neighbors. Some today might extend that to include walls.
These three stories demonstrate how short-sited that aphorism is – as these barriers limit our ability to truly see other people.
Whether the neighbor is next door in Newton, the next town over from Hastings or spanning across the airwaves and state lines as in Mr. Rogers. It is the lack of fences, walls, and boundaries – both literal and psychological – that allow us to fulfill this most fundamental part of being alive and growing.
Being a good neighbor asks us to see everyone – not just those next door or in our town – but across all borders – as someone with whom we share our planet and humanity. Someone with whom if we gave the time to be welcoming, we might both grow from that experience.
What kind of neighbor are you?
Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.
I will keep this week’s post exceptionally brief, ceding my time to Mr. Rogers.
In the spirit of award season, I ask you to watch his very brief speech accepting his Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In his soft and welcoming voice, he will ask you to something simple.
These 10 seconds will make your day and, if so moved, maybe someone close to you.
Trust me. Don’t wait. Watch now.
Regardless of the outcome of last week’s election, the morning after would produce two irrefutable facts:
- Half of all Americans would be disappointed, despaired or even disgusted with the results.
- Each one of us would still go on with our lives, trying to do what is best for our family, our friends and ourselves.
The first point cuts to the unfortunate and growing divide in our country – a by- product of a society segregated in far too many ways.
The second speaks to what has always unified us – the belief that we can make a better life for ourselves and those around us, regardless of the challenges we face.
Which brings us to the central question: Now what?
Do we continue to stay segregated in our respective bubbles, fostering resentment and hoping to take pleasure in the failure of others? Or do we reach out, seeking understanding, and new ways to help each other succeed?
Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) once said, “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.”
Let’s do one better and be the helper when we see something scary.
A friend of mine, Rich Greif of Big Brothers Big Sisters, embodied this with his Facebook post:
“You want real change? Since last night, 40 people signed up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister with our agency. Those 40 people will have a more life-changing impact on those 40 kids than any President will. So get out and volunteer, donate and advocate and make your community and country a better place.”
Well said, Rich.
So ask yourself again, now what?