Despite his sweet pastor’s demeanor, Rogers was tuned into our soul’s darkest feelings. He had an uncommon appreciation for anger, fear, stress, sadness, disappointment and loneliness. He respected the range of emotions and encouraged children to accept all their feelings as natural. This conviction came early: As an only child to proper New England parents, Rogers was discouraged from acknowledging sadness. This, along with Rogers’ childhood experience of getting bullied for being overweight, made “Fat Freddy,” as he was called, acutely aware that too often, and usually inadvertently, adults silence children instead of showing them how to deal with troubling feelings.
Rogers believed that variations of the “sticks-and-stones” adages intended to get kids to “shake it off” are stifling; they abandon children to their pain instead of teaching them how to process it. In contrast, Rogers encouraged children to face their dark feelings. Not a trained philosopher, Rogers would likely attribute his education in the emotional landscape of children to the psychologist Dr. Margaret McFarland at the University of Pittsburg, with whom he collaborated for 30 years. And yet there is a foundation for the sort of philosophy of feelings Fred Rogers practiced that can be traced back more than 2,000 years to Ancient Greece.