No Matter What You Feel, It Is Okay to Have This Feeling
A lesson from a man who advocated for mental health 50 years before it was “a thing”
This is an excerpt from my new book, 2-Minute Pep Talks*. If you enjoy it, you can buy a copy for as little as $3.99 here*.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was one of the longest-running children’s TV shows of all time. For over 30 years, Fred Rogers used stories and songs to guide preschoolers through everyday interactions with other people, showing them what it means to be human, and how to do it gracefully. In hindsight, it’s hard to believe the program almost didn’t happen.
In 1969, president Lyndon Johnson proposed a $20 million bill for the creation of PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service. Before the bill could pass in the Senate, however, Richard Nixon took office — and promptly suggested to cut the funding in half. Mister Rogers was chosen to testify in a hearing regarding this matter.
Rogers made some good points, for example that $6,000, the current budget of one 30-minute episode of his show, might otherwise only pay for less than two minutes of cartoons. His best argument by far, however, had little to do with facts and figures. It was a point about feelings, a point Rogers made with the lyrics of one of his songs:
What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong
And nothing you do seems very right?
What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?
It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a lady
And a boy can be someday a man.
Not only did Mister Rogers’ presentation move the usually hard-boiled and grumpy chairman of the hearing, Senator John Pastore, to tears, it also secured the entire $20 million in funding, guaranteeing the future of his and other educational kid’s TV shows for decades to come.
That’s what Rogers wanted to do: give children a good education right in the comfort of their home. Thankfully, his understanding of education went beyond math and history. It also included feelings.
“Anything that is mentionable can be more manageable,” Rogers once said. The twist is that “anything that’s human is mentionable.” There is nothing we can’t openly discuss, and when we do, even the heaviest burden gets lighter. “When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”
“If we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health,” Rogers said as part of his plea. Mentionable and manageable. That’s what feelings are, he believed.
That was more than 50 years ago, in a time when the term “mental health” was basically unheard of, especially with regards to children. Today, it is a topic widely discussed, thanks in part to his remarks.
The message, however, will forever remain one we must both hear and spread: No matter what you feel, it is okay to have this feeling. You can mention it. You can manage it. And you don’t have to do either alone. Welcome to the neighborhood.
This is pep talk #4 from my new book, 2-Minute Pep Talks: 67 Jolts of Inspiration for More Hope, Comfort, and Love in Any Situation*.Pep talks are vitamins for your spirit: You don’t have to take them every day, but if you don’t take them at all, eventually, your soul will feel their absence. With 67 daily messages full of hope, love, and comfort, 2-Minute Pep Talks will make sure you maintain your inner balance. Whether you’re looking for a pick-me-up, new perspectives, or more fuel to accomplish your dreams — if you’re ready to regain that light, optimistic feeling we all used to have as kids, this book is for you.You can get the book on Amazon*.