Finding Fred Episode 1: Genius of Empathy
What made Fred Rogers, a sweet kid from Pennsylvania who played with puppets and spoke to his fish, such a powerful presence?
Have you ever tried to explain the world to children? It’s hard verging on impossible. And it feels like it’s getting harder as clean truths give way to dirty lies and misdirection. The world feels more complicated than it ever has, but has it really changed? Are the simple and profound things any less simple and profound than they once were?
It’s hard to know without Fred Rogers around to tell us. For decades, Fred Rogers ambled onto his set at WQED Studios, changed into a pair of Sperry Topsiders, zipped up his sweater and offered directions to a moral true north. How did he do it? The answer is incredibly complicated but also astonishingly simple. He considered it. He thought about his role in the world and his privileges and his responsibilities and his failures and his feelings. Then he did the best he could. He was considerate in the most profound way possible.
But, of course, he wasn’t just considerate. He was a genius. There was something about Fred that provided him access to the clarity that adulthood steals from us. He was both childlike and mature on a level that can only be understood in terms of geographic time. His presence felt like a gift.
On the first episode of Fatherly’s longform podcast Finding Fred, host Carvell Wallace asks the obvious question about America’s most unassuming icon: Why him? What made Fred Rogers, a sweet kid from Pennsylvania who played with puppets and spoke to his fish, the most important children’s performer of all time. And why are turning to him now, in 2019 when the world feels dark, for a kind of clarity that we can’t seem to find elsewhere.
The answer turns out to be, like Fred preferred, simple and profound.
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