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Mr. Rogers and the Philosophy of Simplicity

July 20, 2022 | by Rabbi Adam Jacobs

I recently had the pleasure of watching “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” an excellent documentary about a show that I loved as a kid called “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” The show had an amazing run from 1968-2001 and, with a totally counterintuitive style, captured the hearts and minds of millions of children.

Its host, Fred Rogers, was a couldn’t-be-more-regular guy from Pennsylvania interacting with inexplicably low-budget sets and hand puppets. Yes, this was a long time ago, but shows like Sesame Street and the Electric Company ran circles around it stylistically. What then was the secret of this show’s success and enduring cultural legacy?

It was Mr. Rogers. He was so unassuming, genuine, open and honest, and caring that young people were drawn to him like so many iron filings to a magnet. He took children seriously and spoke to them with full attention, right to their hearts. He never shied away from difficult concepts that could generate negative emotions and believed it was important to process them in the sanitizing light of day. Ultimately, his simple but profound messaging won the day.

Simplicity is somehow not always valued in modern times, but as is well known in science and philosophy, the simpler, the better (or, the more “elegant”). What could be more simple or more profound than E=MC2?

Do you know what else is simple, elegant, and profound? Human consciousness (what some chose to call a “soul”). The Jewish conception of this inner-essence is that it is very pure, very refined, and very straightforward. It does not like “shtick.” It really does not like conflict, meanness, and small-mindedness. It wants to be spoken to in a simple, pure, and loving way.

Those who get this tend to have good relationships and tend to be happier. Fred Rogers had this gift. Watch how he speaks to these kids - he speaks on a soul level - and their souls responded. Mine did too.

For some additional thoughts on the Soul, please check out Can We Still Believe In A Soul by Dr. Harris Bor.

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