Fred Rogers loved The Little Prince and, in particular, one line: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” He framed the quote and hung it on his wall.
The Little Prince is a book about a regal alien trying to make sense of adults and the various worlds they inhabit. The prince struggles to understand what motivates them and why he finds them so disappointing. And it’s no wonder. He’s not an adult. They are fundamentally foreign to him. He is from the world of childhood.
That’s not a place many adults get to visit. Fred Rogers went their frequently because he knew how to get there. But he didn’t just know because he was special or chosen in some way. He knew because he chose his mentors well. Margaret McFarland, a child development specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, offered him a path towards child-like thinking and provided him with a steady stream of insights into the minds of children. Being patient and open, Fred Rogers played the role of the pilot that encounters the prince. He listened. He learned.
More broadly, Fred Rogers learned to meet the people that he spoke to where they lived. His profound empathy and willingness to engage with people whose agendas did not match his own made him a masterful persuader and a formidable leader. He was not the loudest adult in the room, but he was almost invariable the most aware of what was really going on.
In the fifth episode of Finding Fred, host Carvell Wallace explains how Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was constructed with care for its inhabitants and their unique needs.