Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Recollection on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood's 50th Anniversary

On days when I take lunch in my apartment, I often listen to podcasts.  Today’s listen was a 1984 Interview by “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross of US Children’s Television personality, Fred Rogers.  His popular program on US National Public Radio, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, debuted 50 years ago. In responding to a question about why his program was so popular, Mr. Rogers reflected,  “Every one of us longs to be in touch with honesty… I think we’re really attracted to people who will share some of their real self with us.”  The reach of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” was brought home to me when two NUS Residential College Four colleagues, one from Singapore and another from Lebanon, told me they had watched it.
In 1982, the US Association for the Club of Rome held an event to commemorate publication of The Limits to Growth. The occasion also celebrated publication of the Association’s commemorative book, Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future. Making it Happen…, was intended to make the Club of Rome’s message appealing to Americans, who had recently elected a pro-growth conservative Republican as their President. It drew parallels between the Club’s message and President Reagan’s Inaugural Address “Americans are too big to dream small dreams…” It described the lives of Americans, including some US Club of Rome Members, whose lives exemplified positive, affirming sustainable development visions.
In introducing the book, I asked members of the audience who had participated in the project to stand.  More 50 rose as I described the book’s message. Each audience member had received a copy and so all could view our “Bookazine” formatted highlights, which included illustrations, poetry, cartoons, and short biographies of contributors  (entitled “who am I?”) as I was speaking.

Why did the 1984 Terry Gross interview, to which I listened while taking lunch, bring back this 1982 memory?  Writing about my address, the Washington Post reporter said little about the substance, merely noting the book characterized contributors as “living exemplary lives.”  Rather what had attracted his attention was that my appearance, words and mode of speaking  “bore an eerie resemblance to Television’s Mr. Rogers.”  Later I wrote a short note to Mr. Rogers, mentioning the reporter’s message and accompanied it with a signed copy of the book.  As I would have expected, he responded kindly. However, as far as I know, Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future, never made it onto the recommended reading list for viewers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.   


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