The nostalgic feelings came rushing back as the opening sequence of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the Fred Rogers documentary, played on the big screen. Fred Rogers’ character impacted the lives of countless children, and his program taught viewers valuable lessons about respect, human dignity, and community.
Many of the trainings we provide at the Grassroots Leadership Academy rely on the fundamental principles of what it means to be a good neighbor. In communities across the country, concerned citizens are working together to solve many of the problems we face.
As Mr. Rogers said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility.” But all too often, many in our society think ‘shared responsibility’ means the government ought to do something. However, the more appropriately applied meaning to this principle is that we must work together in communities – through civic and community organizations, churches, and other institutions – to make the world a better place.
The community-based model we articulate in trainings across the country encourages citizens to get to know their neighbors by understanding what makes them tick, what issues they care about, and what hopes they have for themselves and their community.
Grassroots Leadership Academy’s vision of a society of equal rights and mutual benefit happens when people succeed by creating value for – or helping – others. By empowering individuals to be good neighbors, we can come together in our communities to advance a society where anyone can achieve their potential.
When we aren’t good neighbors, government policies are enacted that remove responsibility from the individual and give it to government agencies. This often creates barriers that prevent people from achieving their purpose, and those barriers tend to slow human progress.
In his universally-recognizable theme, Mr. Rogers asked viewers, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” This seemingly innocent question carries a much deeper understanding than we might initially suspect. It means, won’t you care about those around you? Won’t you be involved in our community? It’s an invitation to make the world a better place.
As adults – and as community leaders – we can learn a lot from Mr. Rogers’ simple lessons. Be kind. Be respectful. And be helpful. Let’s take those lessons out into our community and make the world a better place.