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Book Review-The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor

The actual source of my memory is lost to the sands of time.  We lived in a few houses during the first few years of my life.  I can remember seeing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – but I can’t remember which home I was at.  I never knew Mister Rogers as a Presbyterian minister.  What I missed in my early experiences was The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor.

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There are only a few books that I remember where I was introduced to them.  Heroic Leadership is one of those books.  That plane ride and the simple Iowa woman who was studying seminary introduced me to a different way of Christianity.  I’d grown up going to church, and I thought the only way to share Christ was through preaching.  I learned what Saint Francis of Assisi already knew: “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”  In other words, embody what it is like to be Christ (as best as a human can) and don’t worry about preaching, your actions will do that.

For millions of people, Fred Rogers was that: the embodiment of love and acceptance.  Of course, no man is perfect, and his family could see his foibles and might see things differently.  But, for the countless children who watched the show, there was a person who cared.

The Accuser or the Advocate

Both the accuser and the advocate expose problems.  It’s not exposing the problems of the world that is inherently good or bad but rather what you do about it.  Criticizing someone without a framework for how to make it better makes you the accuser.  Even an inkling of how we might move forward and past the described limitations changes the conversation completely.

In Think Again, Adam Grant shares a framework from Phil Tetlock.  (See Superforecasting for more of Tetlock’s great work.)  The framework is of the preacher, the politician, the scientists, and the prosecutors.  It’s best summarized by the graphic from Think Again:

The accuser, in Tetlock’s framework, is either the politician or the prosecutor – attacking the other side.  In Grant’s view, the best person to be is the scientist.  However, just because one is a scientist doesn’t stop someone from being appropriately critical of things that are wrong.  Richard Feynman explains that sometimes this isn’t easy particularly when the error of another is considered fact.  It’s a slow, painful process with many steps.

It’s appropriate to challenge the slow, measured, simplistic style of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and expose the limitations – which led it to be what it is.  Rogers was often criticized for his pace and focus on feelings, but Rogers kept leaning in on the research and trying to be an advocate for children even when others criticized him.


For a two-to-five year old (Rogers’ core audience) who didn’t have anything stable in their life, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was an alien world.  There wasn’t any yelling, fighting, throwing things, or even unpredictable anger.  Fred Rogers lived his entire television life in one home.  A child learning more about attachment bonds could see that stability was possible – even if it’s not possible in their circumstances.  (See Attached for more on attachment.)  This awareness could give them hope.

Rick Snyder in The Psychology of Hope says hope is a cognitive process that is built on two components.  The first is waypower, or knowing how something could happen.  The second is willpower, or the force to make the necessary changes.  Often overlooked in this model is the truth that these both operate internally and externally.  Seeing a world that existed without the day-to-day fear that some children were subjected to instilled hope in them by showing that other people knew how to create these environments.

Where Sesame Street was focused on intellectual learning, Rogers was focused on emotional learning.  (See “G” is for Growing for more on Sesame Street.)  Rogers knew that his work needed to be measured and clear so that young minds could absorb it.  More importantly, he wanted to instill the ability to self-regulate emotions, which takes skills and the space to practice them.


Deep into the research on attachment theory and secure attachment is a concept of internalization.  It’s a concept where the people that you’ve lost leave imprints on you in such strong ways that you can continue to retain a relationship with them after they’re gone.  For Rogers, this internalization included toast sticks.  A kindly old neighbor in Latrobe would make him toast and cut it into sticks.  One day not long before she died, she taught the five-year-old Rogers how to make the toast and cut them.  He was able to take that new skill with him – and to think about her every time he made them.

We internalize people partly by what they teach us but also by learning how they would react to a situation.  We can predict how they might behave whether they’re present or not.  (See Mindreading for more on our predictive capacity.)  This internalization allows us to become the best of the others that we encounter in life.


The thing that Rogers created for himself and others was space.  From the intentional, slow movement through the program to the routine that had him up every morning, he knew how easy it is to get distracted in a world full of noise.  He inherently understood the value of reflection.  (See Quiet for more.)  While a television personality himself, he rarely watched television.  Mostly, he preferred to read.  Though he didn’t say it, in those days, television was live, which doesn’t create an opportunity to pause and reflect.  Obviously, he had no inherent problem with television, it just wasn’t the way he chose to spend most of his time.

I’m not sure what Rogers would make of the ever-increasing pace that has come since his death.  In the two decades since his passing, we’ve moved in ways that annihilate silence and venerate noise.  Everything has been tweeted or turned into a TikTok reel.  We can select our noise – as long as it’s not selecting silence.


The essence of prayer is relationship.  It’s a relationship with God.  More specifically, the literal meaning of the language of prayer is the exchanging of worries for faith.  We’re engaging in a relationship with a benevolent father, who takes on our worries and fears and responds with simple assurances that he is present.  Relationships are built through talking.  They’re built through sharing experiences.  Relationships form on the basis of a desire to understand and on understanding.  As we pray, we open ourselves up to relationships with God – and to hearing what God has to say.

Sometimes the person we’re relating to on Earth is a “cornball” – one of the ways that Rogers is described.  We all have our quirks, and by all accounts, so did he.  His idiosyncrasies left him slightly out of step with the world – in his case, perhaps in a way that endeared him to the children he sought to serve.  Perhaps by demonstrating he wasn’t perfect, he made it a little easier for children who watched to accept their imperfections, too.

Feelings Matter

There’s a tendency to validate whether a fear is rational or reasonable given a set of circumstances.  Our brains evaluate emotions and judge their validity in ourselves and others – and it’s not one of our better features.  What feelings need is acceptance, not judgement.  If we accept a feeling as real – irrespective of the reality – we can move forward towards working through or with the emotion.

Richard Lazarus in Emotion and Adaptation and Lisa Feldman Barrett in How Emotions Are Made help us to understand that there are cognitive processes, often operating below our conscious awareness, that are designed to keep us safe.  Because they’re protectors, we should respect them – even if we don’t always listen to them.  They deserve to be recognized.

Is a fear of heights rational?  From an evolutionary perspective, yes.  The risk of falling was largely unpredictable and represented a threat.  Is it rational in a skyscraper?  Probably not – but by acknowledging the roots, we can understand how it makes sense even if the current conditions don’t match the need for fear.

One of Rogers’ key beliefs was that public television had the power to educate children (and adults) that feelings are mentionable and therefore manageable.  He believed that feelings matter.


A broken arm is mendable.  The trauma of almost – but not actually – losing a sibling or child is mendable.  We will, given time and the right support, grow past the traumas and perhaps even into stronger versions of ourselves.  (See Posttraumatic Growth for more.)  However, there are some situations which aren’t mendable.  False accusations create a sense of doubt and fear around a person which aren’t fair – and they’re non-repairable.  Cardinal Bernardin was falsely accused of sexual abuse of a college student, Steven Cook.  While the accusations were ultimately proven false, they left a permanent mark on a good man.  Still, the Cardinal proved what Dr. Orr, one of Rogers’ mentors, had said long ago about the only thing that evil could not stand – forgiveness.  Bernardin forgave Steven Cook and showed that even broken hearts can be mended.

Perhaps if we need to know that we’re mendable and that we can be mended, we can find assurance in The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers.

Book Review-The Mister Rogers Effect: 7 Secrets to Bringing Out the Best in Yourself and Others from America’s Beloved Neighbor

There are probably neighbors you have today – or you’ve had in the past – whom you don’t want to emulate.  They’re the people you didn’t click with and didn’t form relationships with.  However, most of those who grew up with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood would love to understand The Mister Rogers Effect: 7 Secrets to Bringing Out the Best in Yourself and Others from America’s Beloved Neighbor.  Fred Rogers seemed to have that effect on us – bringing out our best.  How he did it was a mystery, but the fact that it happened would bring us warmth.

The Principles

A simple question led to the identification of seven psychological principles that were embodied in Rogers’ work.  The author, Anita Knight Kuhnley, trains counselors.  She found that Rogers resonated with her students – even before she was able to articulate the principles:

  • Listen First
  • Validate Feelings
  • Pause and Think
  • Show Gratitude
  • Develop Empathy
  • Practice Acceptance
  • Establish Security

Listen First

“Can you hear me now?” is a famous quote from Verizon commercials.  It speaks to the telephone connection between two (or more) parties.  It speaks to the problems that we have in communicating with others – framed in the limitations of technology.  We take for granted that the person we’re speaking with – across the room or across the globe – can hear us.  We expect that the words we use will be converted to pressure waves that they can decode.  More than that, we assume that the words we use will mean the same thing to them that they mean to us.  We expect that the other person will hear and understand.

Unfortunately, we’re so overwhelmed by communications (see The Organized Mind) and notifications from our technology (see Alone Together) that the assumption of listening is shattered before we even enter the realm of the other person’s mind and the distractions that occur inside their head.  (See Motivational Interviewing.)

Though we assume listening exists and expect it, we know that it takes focus and skills.  Motivational Interviewing and The Ethnographic Interview both focus on the ability to listen to others as the foundation, but it’s hard.  It’s hard to shut off the torrent of thoughts and ideas to be present enough in the moment with the other person to listen carefully.  (If you speak with children, you may want to look at How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk as well.)

Listening isn’t really the goal.  It’s the first step, but the real goal is to understand the other person, to understand the way they view the world and process the things that happen to and around them.  Listening is just the tool we use to achieve that understanding.

Validate Feelings

“Don’t cry.”  It’s a sentence uttered by parents everywhere.  While intended to bring comfort, it belies a simple truth.  The parent isn’t comfortable with the child’s emotions.  In the land of learning, children are taught that emotions are scary to others, and they should be kept to oneself.  Rogers’ perspective is that feelings should be mentionable and manageable.  We shouldn’t hide our feelings under a rock.

Some parents believe that they should be there to protect their children.  If their child is feeling pain (even psychological pain), they should be able to solve it.  The fact that this is an unreasonable and unnecessary burden doesn’t make it any lighter.  We know that chicks need to break their shells and sea turtles need to fight their way to the water, because if they don’t, they won’t survive very long.  (See Posttraumatic Growth.)  Struggle is a part of the animal kingdom – all the way up to humans.

There are two key issues with the failure to validate feelings.  First, it will drive people away from secure attachment towards insecure attachment with the corresponding impacts.  (See Attached.)  Second, we have an innate need to be understood.  (See The Righteous Mind.)  When someone cannot or will not understand our feelings, it can lead to loneliness.  (See Loneliness.)  Even if you can’t reach the level of understanding, simply being willing to sit with someone to help them feel less alone can be immensely helpful.

Pause and Think

In a world of rapid swipes on our phone to send away new stories, videos, and people, we’ve almost engineered a world in which we don’t want people to pause and think.  We’ve encouraged people to fill every moment of their day.  Newspapers struggle, because people have every form and topic of news at their fingertips, so they need not spend an instant of boredom or encounter a moment where they might have to think.

Even at home, people often have a television on generating a constant stream of noise to block out the potential to stop and think.  Today, it seems like we’re more afraid of what thoughts that we might have if we paused to think than we are of being in an accident.  Why are our thoughts so scary to us?

In a conversation with Chuck Underwood (author of America’s Generations), I was struck by the different in the way we processed information.  To be the kind of scholar that Underwood is, you must pay attention to the news, making clippings and notes of the events that may shape a generation.  Conversely, I rarely look at the news.  I spend more time diving deep into the current books about a topic – and, quite frequently, going back to their sources to understand how the author’s perspectives were shaped.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in The Little Prince, says “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”  (Translated from French.)  Rogers had the original French version on the wall of his office.  The surface things that we see when we’re going so fast through our days aren’t really the full experience.  Finding our way to the heart of the matter takes time for us to pause and think.

Show Gratitude

There’s value to looking for the positive in things.  Rick Hansen in Hardwiring Happiness focuses on what we can do to generally think about things in a more positive way – including the addition of gratitude.  Dan Richo in How to Be an Adult in Relationships explains the value of appreciation – that is, gratitude for other people.

Develop Empathy

Empathy isn’t as complicated as people make it out to be.  Empathy is “I understand this about you.”  It can be cognitively, understanding background, hobbies, or aspirations.  It can be – and is most frequently used in conjunction with – understanding how another person feels.  Empathy is sometimes confused with sympathy, which is substantially different.  Sympathy doesn’t express understanding of the other person, but rather it understands their undesirable situation – “It sucks to be you.”  (See Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism for more.)

Sometimes, even empathy gets a bad reputation.  However, as Against Empathy explains, it’s not empathy itself that’s the problem, it’s what people do with that empathy.

Practice Acceptance

The Dalai Lama is known for compassion – which is appropriate.  (See The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness for more on the Dalai Lama.)  What most people don’t realize is that acceptance is an important raw material for compassion (see An Appeal to the World).  You can understand someone, but until you accept them, it’s hard to desire to resolve their problems.  That’s why it’s not just empathy that’s required, it’s acceptance as well.

In After the Ball, we learn that acceptance is a pathway towards eliminating fear and hatred.  If we can practice acceptance, we’ll be less likely to find reasons to divide.  Rogers is well known for showing himself and a black actor playing an officer putting their feet into the same kiddie pool as a sign that the race inequality wasn’t right.

Establish Security

We can’t exist fully as humans unless we can feel safe.  When people are driven with fear, they don’t operate at their best, as Amy Edmondson explains in The Fearless Organization.  If we want to experience the best that humanity has to offer, we need to create safety.  Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone speaks to the erosion of social capital that has decreased our overall sense of safety.  (He continues this line of thought in Our Kids.)

One of the greatest things that we can offer to others are the principles of Fred Rogers to extend to them The Mister Rogers Effect.

Book Review-One Minute to Midnight

It was the closest that the world had ever come to a global nuclear war, and it started in America’s back yard. Metaphorically speaking, it was just one minute from the end of the atomic day. The clock advanced to just one minute before midnight, a whisper from the end of the world. Then slowly, magically, it receded to a spot where both sides stepped back from the abyss and found a way towards peace. It was a peace that would start the world on a track of lower risk of mutually-assured destruction.

The time spent one minute from midnight started from October 16th, 1962, when the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was notified that we had aerial reconnaissance confirmation of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis had begun, and it had the effect of advancing the atomic clock to One Minute to Midnight.

The Story

In brief, the Soviets had worked with Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, in a partnership that put medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) on Cuban soil aimed at the United States. Castro has suffered intrusions into the Cuban state through US-sponsored incursions, most notably The Bay of Pigs. The relationship with the Soviet Union was a way of protecting himself from the US and at the same time allowed Nikita Khrushchev a way to give the US back some of what it was giving to Moscow. The US had deployed MRBMs to Turkey – roughly the same distance to Moscow as it was from Cuba to Washington, D.C.

The situation was ultimately resolved through a blockade and subsequent diplomacy, but not before having nearly two weeks of very tense moments. The missiles were removed from Cuba and the US agreed to remove the missiles from Turkey.

That’s the history lesson and the context of the book. However, in addition to the twists and turns the story takes, there’s a second story that’s told of how our world has changed and how it has stayed the same.


Perhaps the most striking observation was the change in communications from then to now. Commands relayed from Washington could take 6-8 hours to make it to the commanders of the Navy stationed in the Gulf of Mexico. Official communication to the Soviet Union could take 12 hours or more. Even before the red phone was installed to provide direct communication between the US and the Soviet Union, we had improved communications dramatically.

Today, we take for granted that we can reach out and contact anyone on the planet in a matter of minutes if not seconds. We have video calls with friends and colleagues half a world away. We expect that our messages will arrive nearly instantaneously and that everyone has access to the internet in one way or another. However, at the time, the internet wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t even a wish.

One of the major challenges for the Soviet submarine commanders was the requirement that they surface to communicate with Moscow each day. While the timing made perfect sense in conflicts centered around Moscow – midnight – it made them very vulnerable during the daylight in the Atlantic waters.

Time and Distance

Never had the Soviet Union deployed ships and troops in such quantities so far away. Simple challenges like communications seemed onerous until they needed precise time signals that were too weak to receive from Moscow. Instead, they had to accept their time signals from US sources – unbeknownst to the US army.


It took nearly 30 hours for the US to notice that the Soviet ships that were on their way to Cuba to turn around and start heading home – after the initial awareness that the US knew of the missiles and Khrushchev started pulling back. Still, there was a spy providing the US with lots of useful information including the technical manual for the missiles being deployed to Cuba. We also had a sophisticated (for the time) set of listening posts that made it possible to detect the location Soviet submarines without their knowledge.

Spy planes, including the U-2, were used to gather aerial reconnaissance. (See The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird for more about spy planes.) Where now we have satellites orbiting to safely photograph locations of interest, back then, we had to put people at risk to gather the photographic intelligence we needed to make decisions.

What we knew was mostly wrong – particularly as it pertains to the number of nuclear warheads that were in Cuba and the troop deployment. Moreover, we had dramatically overestimated the Soviet nuclear capacity. Where we underestimated the deployment strength, we vastly overestimated the total strength.


The crisis wasn’t really about the ability to hit the US from Cuba. The truth was, as Kennedy was aware, that you were dead whether the nuclear warhead was delivered through an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a MRBM. Kennedy never liked the Jupiter missiles deployed to Turkey and he tried to remove them – but he was always blocked. His “ace in the hole” was the Minuteman ICBMs that were scattered throughout Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Where the Jupiter missiles were mounted above ground and took 15-30 minutes to fuel, the Minuteman missiles were in underground silos and were ready to launch “within minutes.” Their farm configuration – which spread the missile silos over large areas of sparsely populated space – made them difficult for the Soviets to wipe out in an initial attack scenario.

The missiles in Cuba were a pawn of the much larger nuclear one-upmanship that the two superpowers had been playing. It was the case of American imperialism against communist solidarity. The missiles weren’t the point – the fact that the US was being threatened was.

Cuba’s Castro

Ninety percent of Cuba was owned in some way by the United States companies or individuals before the revolution. Cuba’s liberation meant that the government ceased the assets of foreign owners for state control – and even despite this grab of economic power, the country nearly collapsed. Castro’s revolution was a success – barely – but his economy was a wreck. He was intent at doing whatever it took to ensure that the economy survived, so that the country would survive under his leadership.

He was, however, a revolutionary at heart, and as such, he was willing to go to much greater extremes than either the US or his Soviet counterparts. Where the US soldier wouldn’t tolerate poor conditions and as much as one-third of the soldiers becoming ill, this was tolerable for the Soviet troops. The Soviets had done testing on their own people with regard to the impacts of nuclear radiation. Many died as a result of their radiation exposure. Castro knew the impacts of nuclear radiation and was willing to poison his country for decades to stop an invading US force.

The Soviets brought more with them than the MRBMs. They brought tactical nuclear weapons that would wipe out an invading force – but not without rather permanent and lasting damage to the ability for Cuba to be habitable. This didn’t seem to bother either the Soviet suppliers or the Cuban Dictator, who seemed locked in his revolutionary ways and the belief that winning was all that mattered.

The Consequences of Nuclear War

Kennedy and Khrushchev were both painfully aware that there was no such thing as a limited nuclear war. They knew that once the first weapon was fired (even inadvertently), there would likely be little turning back. Where Castro seemed intent on using whatever means necessary, both leaders saw their roles in history differently. They felt like that if they stepped too far forward, there would be nothing to step back to.

What does it mean to be the victor when the world is destroyed, they wondered. Victory is hollow when it is only to survive longer before inevitable death.


The threat to democracy was communism. There was a belief that it just could be a better system of government, and the US’ democratic approach was bound to be buried by communist efficiency. Where Khrushchev made promises to crush the US economically, we now know that this was just bluster. That didn’t stop the inquiries at the time or the fear that our way of living might be changed by forces outside our control.

It’s interesting to me as I compare it to Microsoft’s response to Linux in the 1990s. Linux was a real threat to Microsoft’s Windows desktop market – only to be revealed to be a non-issue. Microsoft did lose some market share to Linux in the server market, but this was hardly as pervasive or as redefining as it was anticipated to be.

When you’re standing too close to the problem, you fail to put it into a proper perspective.


JFK is a hero. However, his image is much larger than the real-life person. His handling of the crisis, his push to the Moon, and his famous speeches anchored a place for him in the American psyche. Having been assassinated, he didn’t have to accept the messiness of the fall from grace. However, when you look deeper, you see parts of the man that don’t reflect the hero image.

His medical issues were a secret to me until One Minute to Midnight. I never realized all the care that he was receiving behind the scenes to remain functional. I recognize these host of problems as the result of stress and incongruency in his world – something that the doctors at the time didn’t appear to be aware of. However, the man that spoke for everyone in America was as fallible as any other man.

There are the stories that you hear about JFK and his infidelity. Marylin Monroe’s relationship with him – including the alleged sexual relationship – are well known. His string of sexual encounters was also well established. However, the relationship with his former neighbor and former wife of a senior CIA official was an aspect I had not previously been aware of.

I can only believe that these were different times for different people, when it was expected that men, particularly powerful men, would have affairs. I don’t understand it or how it would be acceptable to the wives, but it’s far from the last time that a politician – or sitting president – would have an indiscretion that the wife knew about and either condoned or concealed. (Think Bill Clinton.)

I don’t know that we’ll ever get to the same place that we were with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviet Union’s attempts to keep pace with the US economy and defense spending broke it. Communism, it seems, wasn’t as great as it was made out to be. What I do remember from my history class is that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it – and not just the high school history class. If for no other reason than avoiding the possibility of nuclear war, perhaps it’s time to give some thought to One Minute to Midnight.

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