“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” — the documentary that looks back at the life of the legendary Fred Rogers — opened last week to some stellar reviews and has been reminding the world that a little love and inspiration goes a long way.
Oscar-winner Morgan Neville directed this film, which looks at the humble beginnings of the icon before and after he entertained and mentored millions of kids on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Neville spoke to ABC News last week about Rogers’ legacy, including some major life lessons he leaves behind.
Here are five lessons and what Neville had to say about each:
1 – One quality does not define a person
“What I think was really unique about what Mister Rogers was doing is that he embraced people’s uniqueness,” Neville said. “He had people on who you didn’t see on TV. Not just racial diversity, but … special needs children, which [he had on] all the time.”
The director added that Rogers showed kids that “it was totally OK to be exactly what you are.”
“He celebrated people for their differences,” he said.
2 – Don’t shy away from the difficult subjects
Neville thinks adults tend to tell children not to worry about bad things in life. But Rogers did the opposite.
“I have kids, I know that’s what you want to do,” he said. “But what I think he realized is that kids are way too smart and intuitive to not know when things like that are happening. He really just said, ‘Let me level with kids … I’ll explain to them things like – assassinations happen, wars happen, death happens.'”
Though the show was for kids ages two and up, Neville said they needed to learn about these heavy topics.
“I know those became huge teaching tools for generations of kids,” he added.
3 – Always stand up for what you believe in
“I think he wanted to give kids a sense of self esteem,” Neville explained. “I think people misinterpreted that as him telling kids they were special and therefore, they were entitled to do whatever they want and I think it was the opposite. I think he was telling kids they were worthy of human dignity. They were worthy of self esteem. They were worthy of being loved.”
He said that message was really empowering to kids.
4 – A little kindness goes a long way
“When I digest his message down to one thing, I come up with radical kindness,” Neville said. “It’s kindness not because you want to get patted on the back or seen as a good guy or because somebody was kind to you even. [It’s] kindness even when it’s not deserved. This idea of blind kindness.”
He adds that if you do that, kindness will come back and create a “healthy neighborhood” like on Rogers’ show!
5 – During tragedy, always look at [and celebrate] the helpers
“Whenever something bad happens, people always look[ed] to Mister Rogers,” he said. “Look for the helpers is something I’ve seen come up whenever something bad happens.”
It’s just a way of looking for something positive in the wake of something horrible or horrific, he added.
“I think that was something essentially he understood,” he said. “Rather than judging something or expressing anger or fear, look for a positive expression.”
Bonus – Be emotionally honest
The thing that Neville has taken the most from Rogers while working on this film is that he thinks his superpower was “emotional honestly.”
“He put himself out there in such a way that most of us as adults are very insecure about,” he said. “I like to think he’s helped me be a little bit more emotionally honest.”