Love and Acceptance Trumps Hate
The past couple of days were marked by two events that both had a few things in common and that we vastly different. They were both events concerning men named Fred. Both of these Freds were clergy members. This is where the similarities stop, however. As you might have guessed, one of the men was Fred Rogers, whose birthday was yesterday, and the other man was Fred Phelps, who passed away a couple of days ago.
Reading Fred Phelps’ Wikipedia entry reveals the life of a man whose religious beliefs led him to spread messages of hatred. Every event he was at, every place he appeared, he was there to tell people one thing: God hates you and you’re going to burn in hell. He and his church picketed soldier’s funerals, Presidential inaugural balls, and more. They even went to Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein in order to declare on the streets of Iraq that God hates the USA. Looking at them, they seemed to revel in creating hurt. The more hurt, the better.
If one good thing came out of their activities, though, it was the unifying force that seemed to bring people of different backgrounds together to oppose Phelps’ crew. Bikers and gay rights activists, comic book lovers and the Foo Fighters – they all could come together to stage counter-protests. At times, the protests were serious. At times they were silent – for example, to shield family members from having to see Phelps’ group. Other times, they would be hilariously irreverent. (The Comic-Con counter protest is my all-time favorite.)
On the other side of the spectrum was Fred Rogers. Known as Mister Rogers to millions of children and adults, he was a regular on public television for over thirty years. Whenever you turned on his show, he was always happy to see you. This wasn’t just an act, though. He was extremely nice in real life too.
Don’t confuse niceness for weakness, though. When he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys in 1997, Mister Rogers opted not to give the usual speech. Instead, he told the crowd to spend ten seconds in silence thinking of the people that helped them get to where they are today. The crowd laughed a bit thinking it was a joke but Fred – still nicely – told them he’d keep time. He had an entire audience full of stars keeping silent for ten full seconds. Not one of them dared to disobey him.
On the political front, Fred Rogers was always fighting for what he believed was right. He won additional funding for PBS when cuts were looming. When other programmers were decrying the VCR as something that could destroy their livelihood, Fred Rogers supported it because he believed families being able to choose when to watch his program would grow closer together.
Even his entry into television was an act of love trumping hate. He initially hated the programming on TV, but saw the potential of the medium. Instead of simply complaining about how horrible television’s programming was, he took it upon himself to create something wonderful.
Perhaps both legacies are best contrasted by people’s reactions upon their deaths. Fred Phelps’ death was met with a mix of indifference and outright relief. Fred Rogers’ death was met with near-universal sadness over his passing and wonderful memories of his life.
If I were to place a bet on the future, I’d wager that Fred Phelps will be, at best, a footnote. His name will be a trivia item and not much else. Fred Rogers, however, will still be well known. People will still fondly remember Mister Rogers’ work both on-screen and off-screen.
The lesson that I’m drawing from this is that love and acceptance trumps hatred. I life my life with the hope that I’ll leave this world a little better than it was when I entered it. Fred Rogers definitely made this world a better place. This world would be a better place if we had more Fred Rogers in it.