By Emily Erickson
My grandparents’ television sat inside an old cabinet that could barely contain its mass. It had a large, curved screen set into wood-like paneling, and control buttons that stuck out like thimbles from its gently worn face.
Beneath the TV was a drawer filled with coloring books and crayons, and a comfortable patch of carpet that I’d stretch across every morning during my visits. From Sesame Street to Teletubbies, I indulged in my favorite shows and endless arts and crafts, as one can only do at their Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
But my favorite show of all, the one that captivated me enough to close the craft drawer, was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. As the opening tune chimed and rolled and the trolley wove its way across the screen, I’d pull myself up onto my elbows and give Mr. Rogers my rapt attention.
I’d giggle as he tossed his unlaced sneaker from one hand to the other, fixed by his gaze, which looked through the television as if he were entering my Grandparents’ living room rather than his own.
This past weekend, I was transported back to that living room floor, in front of the old cabinet TV, and back into the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of my childhood. I was at the movie theater, sunken into a squashy red chair, with my feet resting on an uneven blanket of popcorn kernels and sticky floor. Once again, I was captivated.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks, was everything I hoped it would be and more.
Inspired by a true story, the movie follows an angsty reporter for The New Yorker magazine, known for his ruthless exposés and a stormy demeanor, as he writes a fluff piece about an American hero, Fred Rogers.
Without spoiling the plot, the movie explores the intentionality behind Fred Rogers and his hit children’s show.
Rogers sought to provide kids with the language to explore their own emotions and give them the tools to navigate their feelings. Through his program, he sought to give children permission to feel things they’re typically encouraged to pass through quickly — emotions like sadness, anger and fear — and simulated the hardest, most inevitable parts of being a human, like loss, death and jealousy, all for the sake of learning.
Although it was never explicitly named, the movie explored the idea of teaching emotional intelligence, and how that intelligence carries over from childhood into adult life.
In an excerpt from The Handbook of Positive Psychology, authors Peter Salovey, John D. Mayer and David Caruso describe emotional intelligence as, “the ability to perceive, appraise, and express emotion accurately and adaptively; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate cognitive activities and adaptive action; and the ability to regulate emotions in oneself and others.”
Unpacking that idea, “perceiving, appraising, and expressing emotions accurately and adaptively” is the ability to understand what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way, and being able to put those feelings into words. It’s knowing that emotions can present themselves for a multitude of reasons, and that one presented emotion could really be another in disguise.
“The ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge” is understanding how emotions work, and the ways in which they dictate how we operate on a daily basis. It’s placing value on learning about the way humans express their feelings, and the hurdles we often face in doing so.
“The ability to generate feelings” and participating in “adaptive action,” is the ability to recognize that we have some control over which feelings and emotions we decide to revel in. Some feelings, in certain situations, can be acknowledged and then subdued to make space for other, more productive emotions. For example, adaptive action is the ability to face a situation with uncertainty, to acknowledge the fear in that uncertainty and then choosing to move forward, despite that fear.
Finally, an “ability to regulate emotions in oneself and others” is recognizing that emotions are an inevitable part of being human, and the way in which they’re expressed can change from person to person, but often abide by certain patterns and characteristics. In understanding your own emotions, and the patterns of human nature, you can better navigate yourself and your relationships with others.
Like all forms of intelligence, emotions are more easily navigated by some people than others, but can be learned and improved through practice and study. Rogers understood the value in equipping children with the skills to better navigate their emotional worlds, preparing them to handle the many things life would inevitably throw their way.
As for me, I’m grateful these concepts have gotten a national stage in the form of a beautiful movie.
With all the emotion I can muster, I say, “Happy Thanksgiving, and I’m glad to be your neighbor.”
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