What would Mister Rogers say?
I watch the news at six o’clock. Terror, death, chaos, stupidity, racism, extremism, more terror. I hardly recognize the world. I certainly do not recognize my home country. America seems to be swallowing itself whole. It’s depressing. But still, we stay tuned, gorging on enormous bites of hate speech, punch drunk and nauseated by reports of blood and guts and grit and gore, hanging onto the prophesies of ego-bloated politicians and chest-thumping pundits.
Americans—according to the gleeful “experts” who clap their hands like trained seals when called upon to analyze what’s happening to our nation—live in a state of doom and gloom. According to some of them, we are zooming to hell in a hand-basket, tightly woven and carefully crafted by those of us who refuse to follow a hate-driven doctrine. The news pimps pump out riveting stories designed to scare the bejesus out of anyone who watches for more than ten minutes.
Fear is the new sugar-high. Evidently, it sells advertising. It certainly sucks us in. Have a snack; watch the parade of flag-waving fright merchants. Chips, anyone?
I shudder and turn off the television. I play the piano or sit on my balcony and drink a glass of wine. I worry about my kids (in a good way), I wonder what I’ll wear to next week’s party, I plan dinner, I go for a walk. I write. I call my friends. My life feels full and happy. Until I return to the news.
Here’s my question: Should I be afraid because I’m not afraid?
Mister Rogers might remind me to look for the helpers. He once said to his young audience: “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.’ “
So I do. I look to our Helper in Chief.
President Obama recently said: “Donald Trump wants everyone to live in fear. . . This vision of violence and chaos everywhere doesn’t really jibe with the experiences of most people.” Later he said: “The longer that we allow the political rhetoric of late to continue, and the longer that we tacitly accept it, we create a permission structure that allows the animosity in one corner of our politics to infect our broader society, and animosity breeds animosity.”
And fear breeds fear.
It’s bad enough that the Republican presidential nominee uses fear tactics to get under our skin, but I am equally appalled by the news media’s insistence on jack-jack-jack hammering those sound bites at us until we’re deaf and numb and unable to appreciate the good deeds happening around us. What if we’re missing a perfect opportunity to stop our nation’s supposed downward spiral? What if we’re encouraging more mud-slinging by tuning in and paying attention?
I understand the importance of awareness and the critical role the press plays in delivering bad news. Horrifying events occur every day and we need to know about them. But at the same time I feel disconnected. I have a small circle of close friends, and a very wide circle of acquaintances. Most of them are hardworking, loving, dedicated, and committed to making the world a kinder, more tolerant place. I hang out with musicians and writers, most of whom devote their lives to making meaningful artistic statements that others might enjoy. When I turn on the news do I hear their stories?
Where is the good news?
What if love breeds love?
Here is my proposal: Let’s encourage someone—an Internet mogul, a good-hearted philanthropist, a humanitarian with financial backing—to start a media outlet called Good News Only. Fred Rogers had it right all those years ago. Children watching gentle programming will respond by being gentle. Gentleness breeds gentleness. If Mister Rogers could provide this kind of programming for children, why can’t someone, anyone, do it for adults?
Good News Only programming would be inspirational (without excess gush or drama), quiet, and pulsing with lyrical stories about compassionate people doing thoughtful things. I don’t mean we should bury our throbbing heads in sand and ignore hatred. We need to know what’s going on. Good News Only would offer a respite, a television neighborhood we could visit when the bad stuff overwhelms us. Mister Rogers for Adults. Maybe we can’t argue with stupid people, but we can certainly choose to nudge them aside (gently) and pay attention to those worthy of our praise.
Good News Only could feature everyday stories about everyday heroes, like some of the people I know:
- Tracie M serves home-cooked dinners to families of seriously ill children.
- Isha S attends the Eleanor Roosevelt Girls Leadership Workshop.
- Valerie K volunteers at a cat shelter and plays with cats while they wait to be adopted.
- Randy C delivers vegan food (via a high-tech truck) to summer festivals and gives people a chance to eat something healthy.
- Gail R shares free bread with people in need.
- Trey T studies environmental sustainability and law.
- A dozen adult-beginner pianists show up in Milan, Italy and find the courage to perform for each other.
- Julia G and Kathy L produce a modern-day feminist film.
- Maryam K teaches language classes to poor children in Columbia.
- Kathy N prepares to work at an orphanage in Nepal.
- Leslie B continues her work raising money for Performing Arts students.
- Richard and Trisha J provide a loving home for animals in need.
You get the idea. Let’s focus on the wonderful people in our lives and the investments they make in our shared humanity. Let’s stop rewarding hatred by making it a twenty-four hour media spectacle. Let’s listen to another one of the “helpers,” First Lady Michelle Obama: “When they go low; we go high.”
Love breeds love. Gentleness breeds gentleness. And hope? We’ve got that covered. It’s in our nature. We are neither fragile nor fearful. Let’s remind ourselves of that.
Good New Only. I wonder if Ted Turner is interested. Probably not. But Mister Rogers would be all over this.
Robin Meloy Goldsby is a Steinway Artist. She is also the author of Piano Girl; Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl; and Rhythm: A Novel.
New: Manhattan Road Trip, a collection of short stories about (what else?) musicians. Go here to buy Manhattan Road Trip!