Over the weekend I watched “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a movie that focused on Mister Rogers. I’ve also been listening to a podcast called “Finding Fred.” Lately, I’ve seen a lot of bad in the world so I hoped that by listening to stories about Mister Rogers I would find a little faith in humanity. Though he’s been gone for a long time, I think we could all learn a lot from Fred Rogers. I think I especially needed the stories of Mister Rogers this past week as I covered news items that sparked a lot of hateful comments.

There’s a lot of news on today’s front page that has drawn angry comments online. For instance, the idea of putting a roundabout at the intersection of 224 and 127 has been very controversial. For me, it’s frustrating to write a story with facts and figures and still have people say “this will increase accidents.” The studies show that it literally will not.

Roundabouts are very easy to use. I take one daily in Fort Wayne. I think a lot of people, especially those who have not traveled far from Van Wert, are afraid of new things like this, but if it saves even one life (which it’s proven to do), I think this is well worth trying.

Then, in City Council on Monday, I listened for an hour as residents said they were for a homeless shelter, just not in their backyard. I heard homeless people called addicts and mentally ill. One lady even asked why they don’t “just get a job.”

The fact of the matter is that anyone could be homeless at any time. I was and I was not a drug addict or mentally ill. I had a full-time job but it didn’t pay enough to afford housing anywhere. I ended up living in my car and then a garage until I got back on my feet.

In situations, especially dealing with homeless individuals, a lot of people could use more empathy and understanding.

Mister Rogers spoke a lot about empathy and dealing with your feelings in a healthy way. He often explained that it was okay to express your feelings but there was a right and wrong way to deal with your anger. He also spoke on loving people the way they are and doing your best to help them.

Perhaps one of my favorite things Mister Rogers spoke about is our responsibility to make our world a better place. I believe these people working with Haven of Hope are exactly the kind of people Mister Rogers would love. They are the doers in our community, the people who embrace the following quote from Mister Rogers:

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

I think the people at Haven for Hope who have empathy and understanding for homeless individuals would be Mister Rogers’s heroes. It is certainly nice to know that if any of us fell on hard times, there is a group of citizens here in Van Wert that would help without judgment.

I understand the power of fear and how strong it can be. Fear can make us see the world differently. It can make us question good intentions. It can be so strong.

I believe in both of these situations we have people full of fear, especially the fear of “what if.” What if I don’t know how to use the roundabout? What if the roundabout doesn’t work? What if a homeless person trys to break into my house? What if my kids see a homeless person; how will I explain it to them?

Spreading “fear-based information” has never helped any situation. I know often it’s hard to look at facts and statistics when we have our own fears, but that’s what we must do. We must have an open mind and be open to change. Change can be frightening, but it’s how we all get better. It’s how roads get safer and people’s lives improve. We need to let go of preconceived notions – roundabouts aren’t more dangerous and not all homeless people are lazy, mentally ill, drug addicts. Above all, we must be kind to each other and strive to understand one another.

I leave you with another Mister Rogers quote that I have always loved, especially when seeing so many hateful and scary things happening in the world:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” – Mister Rogers