Mister Rogers’ Red Thread
The Red Thread comes from a Swedish expression that seeks to uncover the one thing that ties a life, an event, or a thing together—the throughline.
In the inaugural episode of Find The Red Thread, Tamsen Webster reveals the truth that everyone has a red thread. We all have a way that we make meaning of ourselves, the world, and, perhaps most importantly, change.
Learn the deeper meaning of the Red Thread through a real-life example of an important figure we all know and love: Fred Rogers. Yes, that’s THE Fred Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
- Fred Rogers
- Senator Pastore
- How Emotional Intelligence Landed Mr. Rogers $20 Million
- Fred Rogers’ Senate Testimony
My friend, Drew, challenged me this week to come up with examples of the red thread out in the wild.
What’s the red thread?
It comes from a Swedish expression and they use it to ask, what’s the through line? What is the thing that ties everything together? And I think that each of us has a red thread ourselves. We have a through line. We have a way that we make meaning of the world and particularly, the way that we make meaning of change. What’s happening when things are going wrong or things are going right? Why is that the case? I think we do that in a pattern and I call that the red thread.
Now, the interesting thing I think about the red thread is that the same pattern can be used to communicate and in fact create change and that’s the example that I found. I found an example of someone in the wild unintentionally living their personal red thread.
Who is it? Fred Rogers, Mister Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and I think if you’re familiar with Mister Rogers then there are certain things about him that you know, that he cares deeply about children and his role, the way he sees himself, and his life is to help children.
Now, one of the first places where you can see this red thread in evidence is a quote that many of you may have already seen and it’s a quote that gets shared particularly in response to disaster or tragedy that’s happened in the world and the quote is something he recalls his mother telling him when he was young when something scary would happen in the world and she would say to him, “Look for the helpers.” Whenever something horrible is happening, in the face of disaster, look for the helpers because when you can focus on the helpers, you can see that there’s a lot more hope in this world than there is disaster.
So for me, that’s one indication of Fred Rogers’ red thread, that this powerful memory is something that he recalls and it seems in my mind to fit very closely with not only who he sees himself to be but how we see him. So, evidence one of the red thread.
But Drew asked me to go a little bit deeper with this challenge. He said, find the red thread where you wouldn’t expect to find it and for this, I’m going to go back to Fred Rogers. How does this helper, this person who sees himself as a helper, how does that translate when he’s trying to help somebody else and how does he talk about that to someone else?
Well the example I found, thanks to a Facebook group that I am part of was a 1969 testimony that Fred Rogers gave to a US Senate committee that was an attempt to secure funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and there was 20 million dollars on the line and potentially the future not only of his particular show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but any number of other shows that the corporation was putting into production. So this was important. This was high stakes.
Fred had put together a 10-page document but he decided to set it aside and just speak one on one to Senator Pastore, the main person who seems to be, seems to have been responsible for the decision. And what’s fascinating is that you can see this red thread in evidence and I see five pieces of it.
The first thing he does is he establishes the goal, he states his goal though it wasn’t said, hey, here’s my goal. The goal that he talked about when he’s talking to Senator Pastore, he said it this way: “I’m very much concerned as I know you are,” meaning Senator Pastore, “about what’s being delivered to our children in this country. In other words,” he says, “I share with you a goal to pay attention to make sure that what we are giving to our kids as far as entertainment is as helpful and as good as it can be.”
Now, obviously, they have some shared opinions about what the problem is behind it but the second piece of this red thread is what the underlying problem, what the real problem is. What’s this unique thing, unique way that Fred Rogers sees the world that indicates why that goal is so challenging right now? And he goes on to say this. He says, “It comes about from understanding the needs of children.” He said, “We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to make drama onscreen.”
Now, as he says, the real problem is that we think that entertainment or that drama that kids want looks like one thing, like bopping somebody over the head. But, in essence, he says, the real problem is that there’s an inner drama going on inside of kids that’s not being addressed. So he’s established a goal, he’s established a problem.
Now, the third piece of the red thread is not the solution which you might think. It’s instead a fundamental core idea or realization that makes both the problem and the solution make unique sense. The distinct combination that makes Fred Rogers Fred Rogers. And for him, this idea comes in the form of what he says. He says, “Every day, he gives an expression of care to each child to help them realize that they’re unique.”
So this idea of the problem, meaning that we’re not paying attention to the inner drama of children, is such a problem because every child is different and every child needs to recognize and be appreciated for that difference from one another. So what does that mean? What does that mean, then the solution needs to be in his mind? What he has to do and what he stands for is this change of making it clear that feelings as he says “are mentionable and manageable” and when we do that, we achieve this larger goal of mental health, of good content, good quality programming for our kids.
The final piece is well, how does he do that? And he spends a little bit of time in response to Senator Pastore’s question about what he does. He asks, Senator Pastore says, “Do you narrate the program?” He said, “Yes, I do all the puppets and I write all the music and I write all the scripts.” In response to this, Senator Pastore says, “Well, I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy but this is the first time I’ve had goosebumps in two days.”
So Mister Rogers after he successfully delivered this red thread of goal, problem, idea, change, and action, now, he gets this piece of feedback from Senator Pastore that it’s working and did it?
After Fred Rogers finished his testimony by reciting a song that he wrote about being mad, at the end of it, Senator Pastore turns to him and says, “Looks like you just got yourself that 20 million dollars.”
I’d say that’s a pretty powerful red thread.