Benson column: Won't you be my neighbor?
By Jamie Benson, School District Superintendent
This past week, while I was watching a news report about the gut-wrenching and horrific shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue, the reporter explained that the neighborhood was literally, "Mr. Rogers' neighborhood." It is where he use to live. This year is the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, the children's television show that taught lessons about, well, being a good neighbor.
I saw the irony of all that Fred Rogers taught vs. the deaths resulting from this Pittsburgh shooting, as well the irony to our current national strife.
Considering some of today's national tension and similarity to the social turmoil that existed back in the late 1960's, when Mr. Rogers' show began, I couldn't help but connect a few of Mr. Rogers' life lessons to our world today.
With the current political and social tensions running high right now I thought our politicians would benefit by watching a few re-runs of Mr. Rogers to learn a few lessons such as:
Lesson #1: Be a good neighbor by caring, respecting and helping.
What if political leadership could talk in a civil approach in expressing differing opinions?
It's OK to talk about your pain, frustrations, feelings and to let other people share the same. However, your feelings don't excuse bad behavior, mudslinging, lies and cynical commentary.
Given our current societal ills, maybe some politicians need to attempt to be more patient and understanding without passing judgment filled with cynical, negative and critical bantering that only escalates our growing social and political divisions?
Maybe beyond just the politicians, our entire society needs to pause and not get drawn into the spider's web; don't give negativity more attention—maybe we should try giving negativity less attention.
Let's be sure we are teaching our children to love, respect and care for our neighbor, regardless of our differences. It's OK to disagree but "how" we disagree matters—and our children are watching, listening and learning.
Lesson #2: Learning is fun, good and important. Surround yourself with good teachers.
What if our TV reporters, commentators, guest speakers and opinion leaders were more civil? Better yet, what if they stopped the relentless buzz of reporting the political lies, immature behavior, sarcasm, misleading information, etc. Stop the reporting, stop feeding the crazy stuff to our society, stop fueling the fires.
Right now, I'm trying to wear a hole in my TV mute button and simply watch less of this negativity and hypocrisy. It's not healthy nor productive. Our kids are watching and learning from the adults - I hope they are watching, hearing and learning less of this political bantering and instead are engaged in conversation about what it means to be a good neighbor.
Lesson #3: Words matter— and so does tone, attitude, body language and demeanor. Truth is good - the whole truth - not partial truth.
Using words that entice more fear is manipulative. Are politicians attempting to make things better, or are they only diminishing the opportunity for making progress? Our children are watching and learning—let's teach 'em American values like honesty, respect, cooperation, responsibility, citizenship and compassion.
Lesson #4: There is far more good in this world than bad.
If children are watching or talking about horrific events, encourage them to look for the Good Samaritans; the helpers; the fire men and women, EMT's; police; church leaders; teachers; mentors; and other community volunteers. Yes, we need to help kids understand there are dangers and bad things in this world, but let's be sure to also explain to children that good exists in our world.
We are fortunate to live in a local community that loves our neighbor(s). We are fortunate to live in River Falls because this place firmly believes that each generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation.
During this time of political and social turmoil, let's think about what WE are learning. How we are getting trapped and pulled into the grinding buzz of negativity, and along the way, let's be mindful of what our children are learning—let's be sure to keep teaching 'em to be good neighbors.