When I was growing up, there was a presence in my life, five days a week that sent me and others around the country, messages of kindness. That presence was Mr. Fred Rogers.
Mr. Rogers extolled the virtues of being an individual and caring about others, offering everyone, regardless of their background and based on their humanity, an invitation to “be his neighbor.”
Our discourse in America has changed a lot in the time we have lost Mr. Rogers. From Washington, D.C. to social media and even in companies big and small across the country, people have become entrenched in teams and tribes, spewing vitriol and creating division.
Many are holding up an impossible standard for any human -- agree with me on everything or we can’t be friends, co-workers or even family.
Recently, this sentiment of exclusion was directed at the comedian, talk show and game show host, Ellen DeGeneres. The cause of the outrage against her?
DeGeneres dared to spend time at a Dallas Cowboys football game, seated next to someone whom some people thought she shouldn’t be talking to -- former President George W. Bush.
They were seated next to each other, having fun and smiling, yet various people around the internet thought it was too much and decided it was a reason to be up in arms. Somehow, the sight of two people who share different political values yet chose to spend time together was a reason for online outrage.
DeGeneres responded to the social media outrage on Twitter with grace and class (as well as humor) and used the situation as a teachable moment in a video to remind people that if you don’t share someone’s ideas it doesn’t mean you can’t consider them a friend.
She said, "Here's the thing: I'm friends with George Bush. In fact, I'm friends with a lot of people who don't share the same beliefs that I have."
She continued, "We're all different and I think that we've forgotten that that's OK. That we're all different... but just because I don't agree with someone on everything doesn't mean that I'm not going to be friends with them."
At that moment, DeGeneres picked up the torch from Mr. Rogers, reminding those who needed it about humanity and differences being part of what makes us each special and our world interesting.
My favorite part of her video was how she ended it: "When I say, 'Be kind to one another,' I don't mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
That’s the key; we need to get back to debating ideas instead of tearing down people.
Being kind doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything or even anything someone else says. Let’s remember that the beauty of being a human being is that we are all different and even if you think someone has bad ideas, it doesn’t make them a bad person.
Hopefully this moment will be the first of many instances where we hear the message of kindness repeated, as we, to be a United States of America, really need it.
I appreciate DeGeneres stepping into the Mr. Rogers role. I hope to see many others follow suit by being willing to invite others with whom they may disagree with to still “be their neighbor” on a human level.