A Consistent Day in the Neighborhood
by Andrew Hocking
While Tom Hanks plays Mister Rogers in the 2019 movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the plot centers on a journalist named Lloyd Vogel. When assigned to write a short piece depicting Fred Rogers as a hero, he would much rather uncover moral failure and write an exposé. His cynical approach and Rogers’ authenticity provide insight for the consistent life movement as we engage a pessimistic society.
A Cynical Assumption
As Lloyd protests his assignment to his editor, the audience learns that no other interviewee would talk with him. People knew his reputation and feared that they would be presented in a negative light. Despite knowing this possibility, Rogers agrees to be interviewed.
Lloyd believes the compassionate man on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is a character dissimilar from the man playing him. He says “Well, there’s you, Fred, and the character you play, Mister Rogers.” Lloyd hopes to expose that Rogers struggles with the burden of other people’s problems, that he’s motivated by money, or that he didn’t parent like the TV personality would suggest.
Lloyd represents our society. Others perceive low levels of trust in public institutions and other people today. Compounding pessimism with rampant political polarization, people regularly assume the worst of anyone who holds contrary political beliefs.
I imagine that anyone who identifies with the consistent life movement gets frustrated, as I do, every time they see a Facebook friend criticize the pro-life position on the basis that pro-life people only care about life before birth. I just want to jump up and down and say, “I care. There’s a lot of us.”
To make matters worse, many imagine other people to have the most nefarious motives. Many progressives say that conservatives don’t care about the unborn, but only want to control women’s bodies. Many conservatives argue that progressives don’t care about immigrants and refugees, but only want them to become citizens in order to vote Democrat.
What can we do when political opponents want to assume the worst?
A Consistent Authenticity
First, we need a consistently loving political philosophy that protects all life at all stages. To help educate ourselves and others regarding the consistent life ethic, I read and refer people to the Consistent Life Network website as the organization supports the unborn, the prisoner, the refugee, the minority, the foreign civilian caught in a war zone, and even the foreign combatant.
A political philosophy, however, only goes so far. We need to live authentically. I’ve commented in a previous post on Mister Rogers that our belief in the dignity of all people must transcend political beliefs as part of an underlying worldview that affects our every interaction. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood highlights Rogers’ consistent authenticity, as he would spend a long time caring for his guests in the studio or fans on the street. As a movement and as individuals, we need to ask ourselves if we’re truly defending everyone or if we are neglecting certain people.
In the example of Vogel’s cynicism, the film reminds us that others will mistrust us. As Vogel had interviewed a lot of people who required an exposé, society has seen a lot of hypocrisy.
Consequently, trust must be earned. It doesn’t help to feel bitter about this burden. Whether we like it or not, we must patiently work overtime to make up for the hypocrisy of others.
For Lloyd Vogel to believe Fred Rogers has compassion for all people, he especially needs to know Mister Rogers cares for him. In every interview together, Rogers naturally turns the conversation back to Lloyd and his feelings. This isn’t a tactic. It’s genuine compassion.
For our political opponents to believe we truly care for all people, they need to know we care for them. This requires respectful discourse, and that we avoid demonizing or assuming the worst about them. It means our attempts to persuade must be motivated by a desire to help others value all life and not by the goal of proving ourselves right.
Imperfect Is Good Enough
As I write all that we need to do, I feel overwhelmed. After all, who could act like Mister Rogers?
Mrs. Rogers, however, shuns describing Fred as a saint, as she explains to Vogel that we can all live like him: “You know, he works at it all the time. It’s a practice. He’s not a perfect person. He has a temper. He chooses how to respond to that anger . . . He does things every day that help to ground him. Reads Scripture, swims laps, prays for people by name.”
We don’t need to attain (or fake) perfection, but we can find peace in humility. Like Mister Rogers choosing to broadcast the footage of himself struggling with a tent, we can honestly reveal our failings as well. Authenticity does not require perfection.
As Fred Rogers endeavored to have compassion for all, let us do so in our personal and political lives. We must show cynics around the world that people can (in the words of one consistent-life-ethic organization) be “pro-life for the whole life.”
See more of our posts from Andrew Hocking:
For other posts on movies, see:
Hollywood Movie Insights (The Giver, The Whistleblower, and The Ides of March)