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Unless you grew up living under a rock, most of you have at least heard of Mr. Rogers and his show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. After its original debut in Canada, the show aired in the United States on February 19, 1968 and ran until 2001.
The series targeted pre-school children ages 2 through 5, teaching them the importance of being good people and treating others with kindness and respect. He taught kids to foster their self-esteem and to be patient of those who were different from them. He encouraged them to use their imaginations and dream big!
But it wasn’t all sunshine and puppetry. Rogers tackled difficult subjects in a way that young children could understand, while trying to calm their fears and anxiety by instilling them with a sense of hope.
Today, we are going to discuss this famous quote that incentivized kids to look for the helpers. We are going to briefly touch upon why some adults take issue with it, before going into 4 lessons we can all learn from the words Rogers’ mother spoke to him… which have since been passed onto future generations.
What Did Mr. Rogers Mean with His Look for the Helpers Quote?
“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.’”
Believe it or not, there are adults among us that believe Rogers’ famous quote has become nothing more than a platitude people “drop” in an attempt to mask the reality of tragedy in this world. These people attest that the victims and families of tragic events, such as mass school shootings and bombings, are not going to feel better by hearing these simple words.
While this may be true in the heat of the moment, the quote was in no way intended to make light of such things… but rather create a sense of hope in humanity. Rogers wanted to give children a sense of reassurance that one bad person (or group) does not define the rest of the world. He wanted them to know that while bad things happen, there will always be something good that comes from it.
As with life, if you examine this quote without blinders on, you’ll be able to see there is so much more to be learned. And with that, let’s delve into the 4 lessons I’ve shared with my own children from “look for the helpers”.
LESSON #1: There is Always Hope
If you look for these people, any people… even those doing the smallest things, you’ll know that there’s hope.
Mr. Rogers wasn’t just talking about the “big events” that could go wrong in life. He was referring to anything or anyone that may cause a child to be afraid or anxious.
For instance, if a child witnesses his mother faint in a store, they will certainly feel worried. It is only natural. However, two things are happening at the same time.
First, an employee reaches for the child’s hand and tells them “help is on the way and that everything will be ok.” The child starts to calm down and believe this.
Next, the paramedics arrive and begin to treat the child’s mother. The child sees these strangers helping and knows in his heart that things will work out and that he is not alone.
Even should the worst case scenario occur that day, the child will eventually heal, for that is what time does. It heals all wounds. And when it does, the biggest take away from that day will no longer be crushing sorrow and fear, but rather the helpers that rushed to his mom’s side… and his.
LESSON #2: Be a Helper
Don’t just look for the helpers, be a helper. It feels good to help others and be a source of comfort.
Mr. Rogers taught and encouraged children to do the right thing… even if it meant making scary and hard choices. He taught them to stand up to bullies and befriend other children that seemed lonely. To be respectful of their elders.
He wanted kids to do good, and in turn, professed that they would feel good. This is true at any age. Helping others just feels good.
While it is wonderful to look for the helpers, doing so wouldn’t be possible without people willing to help out in tough situations. A child who is being picked on for having a stutter, for instance, may simply be looking for one child willing to be their friend and see them for who they really are. Who will be that child?
Help others today and the favor will be returned ten-fold. That is what Mr. Rogers taught. What goes around, comes around… and kindness is contagious.
LESSON #3: Acknowledge Emotions
It is through the act of comforting people in their times of weakness and despair, that others find their strength. Finding the helpers will not make anyone’s fears go away, but they will feel less alone and find the courage to stand again.
Mr. Rogers never intended to dismiss a child’s feelings when he shared these words on national television. On the contrary, he was whole-heartedly acknowledging their emotions. He was letting them know that they weren’t alone in the world, nor were they alone in the way they felt.
When you hear about acts of heroism and kindness, you can’t help but wonder about the effect that had on the person in need. My husband and I recently watched a movie with our older children, called Thirteen Lives. It is the true story of a soccer team from Thailand that gets lost while exploring a series of caves that are rapidly flooding.
Even though the boys were terrified, not knowing if they were going to survive; they were given hope when they heard the voices of rescue divers coming to their aid. And with that, they decided not to give up, despite how scared they were. They were courageous and did what they had to in order to see their families again.
This lesson teaches us that no matter how dire the situation may seem, if we look for the helpers, we just may find the courage we need to make it through. The hope these people bring is often enough to take our minds off of our desperation.
LESSON #4: See the Light and Good in the World
Where there is darkness, there is light. Where there is evil, there is good. And usually there is more of the latter if you just take the time to look.
While this lesson may sound like a quote from the Bible, stories of good versus evil are ones we’ve all been told. Stories about angels versus the devil, super heroes versus villains, man versus man.
Everywhere you look, evil is lurking. Whether it takes the form of another human being, or an addictive substance, evil feeds on opportunity. The good news is, if we refuse to acknowledge its darkness, it will die of starvation.
Mr. Rogers wanted children to see the light and the good in this world… and not be distracted or discouraged by those who try to extinguish the candles of faith and hope. He stressed that there were more good people, doing good things, than there was evil. The very power of evil lies in getting us to doubt our belief in good.
I recall a lesson I had with a theology professor in college, who was trying to teach us about looking for good among evil. She simply asked us a question at the start of class, “If you buy a fresh bunch of juicy grapes and one is rotten, would you throw them all out? Or simply throw out the bad one and enjoy the goodness of the rest?”
Of course we all answered to toss out the bad grape, attesting that it would be wasteful not to. And as simple as that response seemed, it struck a larger chord. One bad thing (or person) should not spoil your opinion of the rest.
Humanity is not perfect. We are all flawed in some way… but if you choose to look for the light, you’ll never be trapped by the darkness.
Final Thoughts on the Look for the Helpers Quote
There are always going to be two types of people in this world when it comes to having hope… the skeptics and the believers. Whether it is a hope in humanity that you seek, or hope for yourself to prosper, the belief that anything is possible is something that comes from within.
It means letting go of negativity and having a little faith in people… and in God, if you believe in a Higher Power. The Bible says that God made us all in His image and, if that is true, how can we not believe in the power of the helpers in our world the Mr. Rogers encouraged kids to look for?
It is your right to disagree, but keep this in mind: Mr. Rogers’ audience was small children. Children are not born knowing the notion of skepticism. They are not born with low self-esteem. They are not born with fear (in fact, they often feel invinsible). Children are only born to believe what they are told by those adults they trust… and for years Mr. Rogers was one of those people.
Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a “safe place” where parents could leave their kids for a while and know they would be in good hands.
A place where the morals being taught at home were reinforced in a way children could relate to. There is no harm in having them look for the helpers… there is only harm in teaching them to give in to fear and adversity. Kids need positive influences and for those around them to foster a feeling of hope, even if it is only an illusion at times.
They need encouragement. We all do. If you’re finding yourself in a need for a little pick-me-up, or dealing with negative people, read our article on101 Toxic People Quotes to Stay Away from Negativity.