“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.'”
- Fred RogersThe above quote is one that I discovered earlier in this week of researching and writing about Mr. Rogers. It struck me as pleasant and sweet when I read it. In applying it to my life, however, I have discovered that it's much more than this: it's powerful.
Now...in general, I'm not the sort of person who particularly cares for most kinds of "look on the bright side!" advice. If I'm feeling unhappy or distressed about one thing, being told I should be happy or grateful because of the existence of another, positive thing is little more than an invalidation. It's not really help or empathy at all.
But there's a difference, a universe of difference, between being told to stop being afraid of the world and being shown that the world isn't really so scary after all.
The human mind loves to obsess over what it's afraid of. It's only natural that we should do this, of course - keeping potential dangers in the fore of the mind keeps us from ignoring something that could harm or kill us. Early humans didn't survive by "looking on the bright side," when a lion was chasing us or drought threatening our survival, we survived by obsessing about what we're afraid of until the threat went away or we learned a way to deal with it.
As social creatures with complex social orders, we depend on each other for our survival. So, many of our fears have to do with being uneasy about our ability to trust one another. But what we have to learn is that our tendency to engage in tunnel-vision obsessing about the relatively few instances of scary, violent acts by our fellows isn't like obsessing about a nearby lion or imminent death of thirst; it's not a reflection of the truth of the situation, or the danger.
Mr. Rogers was by no means blind to the horrors of the world, but unlike so many of us - most of us, perhaps - he knew how to be aware of them without being blind to beauty. He could see that however much it may not seem like it, the world really is a world full of helpers. Even the very existence of so much "scary" news is a result of the fact that journalists and reporters tell us about it because they, too, find it distressing and want to do something to fix it.
There's never a horror without a helper, and usually, if you look for them, you'll find there are so many more than you ever imagined could be there.