Television has introduced us to a series of unforgettable neighbors, from Boy Meets World‘s Mr. Feeny to Sister, Sister‘s pesky Roger.
But there is perhaps no television neighbor more iconic than Mister Rogers from PBS’ Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
The daily educational program for children debuted on PBS in 1968, after two smaller runs — in 1963 with Misterogers on the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, and in 1966 with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on the Eastern Educational Network. Every day the titular character, played by Fred Rogers, would get home from work, put on a cardigan and sneakers, and talk to his neighbors, delivering lessons on friendship, love, kindness, acceptance, and more. (We, the viewers, were his neighbors, too).
The show went off the air in 2001, after a more than 30-year run, and Rogers died in 2003, but his impact continues to live on. Here are some of the most important life lessons we took away from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
1. When Mister Rogers taught us how to embrace love
There are three words that can be difficult for even the most well-adjusted adult to find the courage to say: “I love you.”
Fortunately, Mister Rogers was on standby to help us take the pressure off.
“There are many ways to say I love you. There are many ways to say I care,” he explained, listing some examples: being there when things are sad and scary, cleaning up a room, hanging up a coat before you’re asked to do it, drawing special pictures for the holidays, and making plays.
Ultimately, the most important thing we can do is share our love with the people we care about, he advised.
“As you grow, I trust that you are finding many more ways to show and tell people that you love them,” he said. “Those are the most important things that you’ll ever learn to do. Because loving people and animals and the world we live in is the most important part of being alive.”
Oh, you know, casual Mister Rogers episode, just dropping truth bombs about love.
2. When Mister Rogers gave us an anger-management lesson
Mister Rogers spoke often about kindness, love, and acceptance, but he also understood that getting angry is a fact of life. Rather than try to get rid of our anger, Mister Rogers taught us that it was important to manage it.
“I found that if I played the piano when I was angry, [my parents] didn’t mind that,” he said. “And then little by little, I’d see the music would be sounding less and less angry. So it seemed the more I played, the more anger got out of me, and I felt better about everything.”
The thing to remember is that we’re in control of our anger: “It does give you a good feeling to know that there’s something that you can do to help you become the master of the mad that you feel, and not have to hurt yourself or anybody else,” he said.
3. When Mister Rogers taught us how to lose gracefully
Sadly, you can’t win ’em all. Mister Rogers wanted you to know you still have talent, even when you do catch an L.
“Being the best loser takes talent, just as being the best winner does,” Mister Rogers said.
Then he brought it back to one of his go-to themes: accepting yourself. “Whether you’re first or middle or last, what’s important is that you’re you. And people can like you just the way you are.”
4. When Mister Rogers taught us to support our friends
If there’s one thing we learned during the taping of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it’s that Mister Rogers is the ultimate friends goal. Why? He knew that true friendship is supporting the people around you, even during the tough times.
“Some people think that friends are always happy, always having fun. Well, that’s not true,” Mister Rogers mused in an episode. “Friends often have hard times and sad times. But friends can come together again and again, and build a stronger and stronger friendship between each other.”
It was a brief but powerful lesson in sticking with our friends, no matter what.
5. When Mister Rogers that taught us to embrace our feelings
Growing up makes for a crazy mess of emotions, especially since kids are constantly encountering new things. In one episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he taught us that we should feel all the feelings that come through our heads and hearts.
“Everyone has lots of ways of feeling. And all those ways of feeling are fine,” he said. Because at the end of the day, “It’s what we do with our feelings that matter in this life.”
Before the episode ended, Mister Rogers shared his wish for us, his neighbors and viewers: “I trust that you’re growing in ways that will help you with whatever feelings you may have, when you’re a child and when you’re a grown up. I hope you’re able to respect whoever you are inside.”
6. When Mister Rogers taught us about divorce
Love and marriage can be a difficult thing to explain to a kid, and divorce can be even harder. But Mister Rogers was on hand to help us navigate that conversation.
In one episode of the show, Mr. McFeely, the mail man, told Mister Rogers about his wedding. And then Mister Rogers broached the topic of divorce.
“Some people get married and after a while, they’re so unhappy with each other that they don’t want to be married anymore,” he explained. He went on to clarify that children should not feel guilty about a divorce happening — it’s never a child’s fault.
“Things like weddings and having babies and buying houses and cars and getting divorces are all grown up things,” he said.
As this discussion proved, when Mister Rogers turned to the more challenging aspects of life, he did so with the care and thoughtfulness that made him so iconic.
7. When Mister Rogers told us we’re all fancy
Everyone needs a little confidence boost now and again. Luckily, Mister Rogers was there with the perfect pep talk.
“I was just thinking: Every fish is fancy in one way or another. Just like every person is fancy, in one way or another,” he reflected in one episode.
Mister Rogers also used those kind words to teach us to respect all living things.
“There is something fancy about every creature in our world. And there’s something fine about each one of us, too. Each person, each fish, each animal, each bird, each living creature. The important thing is to look for what’s fine in everybody. And that will help us to want to take care of everybody.”
Preach, Mister Rogers. Preach!
8. When Mister Rogers taught us that no one thing defines us
Growing up can make us insecure, especially when we compare ourselves to others. That’s why it was so moving when Mister Rogers taught us there is no one thing that defines us.
“There isn’t a whole lot we can do about our outside sort of growing. Some of us grow tall and some of us grow short. Some of us have one color skin and some of us have another,” he said.
But no matter who we are on the outside, it’s the inside that matters, he continues.
“That’s all outside sort of stuff. But we all have insides, too. And our insides have a different way of growing…. We can always try to remember that we’re much more than one thing. We’re much more than our arms or our legs or our eyes or our skin or our hair. We’re even more than our thoughts. When you put us all together, we’re a beautiful, marvelous, spirited, lovely, wonderful one of a kind.”
It was an important lesson in staying confident in ourselves, even as we change.
9. When Mister Rogers taught us about death and grieving
Part of the strength of Mister Rogers was that it didn’t shy away from tough and difficult topics — particularly when Mister Rogers delivered a somber lesson about death and grieving.
In one episode, Mister Rogers looked into his fish tank and saw that one of his goldfish had died. After burying the fish, Mister Rogers pivoted the conversation to talk about another time he had to deal with death: when his childhood dog died.
“I was very sad when she died because she and I were good pals. And when she died, I cried, and when my grandmother heard me cry, she came and put her arms around me because she knew I was sad. She knew how much I loved that dog.”
Later in the episode, Mister Rogers delivered an important lesson: It’s okay to grieve. “If you ever have a pet that dies or you’re sad about something that you’ve lost, it helps to say that you’re sad. Often it even helps to cry. Let people know how you feel.”
You can watch the full episode here.
10. When Mister Rogers told us he was proud of us
After having been on the air for roughly 30 years, it was time for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to say goodbye in 2001. But Mister Rogers didn’t leave without sharing one last important message.
“I’m proud of you, you know that. I hope you do,” he shared in the final episode.
Then, in true Mister Rogers fashion, he burst into a song: “I’m proud of you, I’m proud of you, I hope that you are proud of you, too.”
It was an emotional sign-off; when he left, Mister Rogers said goodbye not as a TV personality but as a friend and teacher who’d given us the skills to handle whatever life might throw at us.
“You may just make your own trolley drawing. It’ll be different from all of these,” he said. “But it’ll be yours and that’s what makes it important. I liked being your television neighbor.”
Right back atcha, Mister Rogers.