When I was growing up, every weekday afternoon a half-hour before my family’s dinnertime, Fred Rogers opened his door and sang “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” to his TV audience. And pretty much every afternoon, my siblings and I would plop ourselves into easy chairs and fall into the satisfying and soothing routines of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. My favorite part was the Neighborhood of Make Believe. The faithful red trolley would ding-ding-ding its way from Mr. Roger’s living room into the land of curious X the Owl, sweet Daniel Tiger, the indomitable Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and the light blue castle of King Friday XIII. The storytelling focused on simple concepts, told in a spirit of kindness, listening, and acceptance.
Last week, I visited Mr. Roger’s hometown of Pittsburgh for the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations Leading Change conference. And just upstairs at one of our receptions was an exhibit with original sets and puppets from Mr. Rogers. Memories flooded back. The trolley! The tree! The castle! I could still name most of the puppets from the Neighborhood of Make Believe. I briefly serenaded everyone with “It’s you I like” and “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” (My very patient companions deemed me the Mr. Rogers Superfan. Guilty as charged.) For me, it truly was thrilling to see the trolley, the very tree where X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat lived – complete with doorbell rope – and to be reminded of the gentle joke of King Friday XIII’s name.
It seemed appropriate that this trip down memory lane came alongside a conference about effective grantmaking. The values of kindness, listening, curiosity, and acceptance that came through conversations with Mr. Rogers’ neighbors and puppetry are also fundamental to building the relationships we need in our work. When we treat our partners with kindness, our processes and funding acknowledge the worth of our partners as people and honor the work they do. When we listen deeply, seeking to understand each other and those we seek to help, we are better able to work together to solve the wicked problems of our time. When we are deeply curious about the experience of others who come from different perspectives, we get out of our bubbles and expand our thinking. And when we see what makes each person special, as Mr. Rogers would say, we can get to greater empathy, understanding each other’s history, identity, and purpose.
I am proud that the work we seek to do in Organizational Effectiveness aspires to these principles. Do we always get it right? Certainly not. But even when we make mistakes, I know that Mr. Rogers would encourage us to learn and grow from them, and to continue our journey to invest in the people who make all of our neighborhoods – and our world – a wonderful, special place.
I am thankful for all of you. Happy Thanksgiving!