There’s an old Mr. Rogers quote that’s often brought out in tough times. If you want to get technical, the quote belongs to the mother of the TV personality best known for his cardigans and puppets, as Rogers related her telling him as a child to “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
I’ve quoted Rogers and paraphrased him often over the years. As parents, we’re tasked all too often with having to talk our children through trauma, and his advice is both comforting and actionable. They don’t have to sit there alone and afraid. They can do something and turn to someone.
But as my child has grown older and stronger, I’ve come to realize that telling our kids to look for the helpers only gets them so far. We need to be training them to be the helpers, to be the people who stand up and help.
Sometimes this means heavy action, being the person who runs into a burning building when others are rushing out. These are jobs we can prepare them for in their future.
But more often helping is something even the smallest of people can do now, in small, simple ways.
They can speak up when someone says something racist, homophobic, xenophobic or misogynist. They can tell the other person that that sort of talk is inappropriate and cruel, and explain why. When engagement is not safe, they can provide the strength of numbers, can walk with friends who are afraid to be alone in the face of intimidation, can offer love, support and the ability to bear witness.
They can be the people they wish someone would be for them. They can be kind. They can be gracious. They can be generous. They can be open. They can think first and judge later. They can offer compassion in place of cruelty.
They can do it all, if only we teach them how and teach them why looking for the helpers should begin with a trip to the mirror.
Image via PBS