It’s time, once again, to reflect on a man who holds the title of “Royal Ambassador to the Children’s Nation.” A man who undertook the great responsibility of relaying social issues and world events to the minds of young children in ways that they could understand. More than that though, this man felt the duty to not only educate and inform these children, but to also stand as a moral lighthouse, guiding their developing minds toward the shores of the benevolent human condition. The man I’m talking about is our beloved Mr. Fred Rogers.

From sharing a pool with a black man on national television during times of racial segregation, to putting on a puppet show with an anti arms race undertone during the height of the cold war, Fred Rogers had a way of getting his message across. What makes Mr. Rogers a true national treasure wasn’t just his ability to inform and educate children, but his ability to break barriers and reach the hearts and minds of the rest of us during times when we think and behave like children. 

On March 11th 2020 The World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus Outbreak a Pandemic. If you’re wondering if I’m going to tell you exactly what that means, keep wondering. There’s a lot of uncertainty and misinformation circulating at the moment and if you want someone to inform you of the appropriate level of panic, there’s plenty of outlets out there willing to oblige. The danger during times like these comes from the fact that uncertainty and misinformation can be a deadly combination, and most often that combination is synonymous with fear. 

Another one of my heroes, Franklin D. Roosevelt, once wisely said “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” FDR said this with an understanding that there is no challenge or disaster that the American people cannot rise up to meet with the full ferocity and resolve of the American spirit. The only thing we as Americans, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the World, have to stand in our way is our own crippling fear that will spread like a cancer and lead us as a nation down a dark and shameful path of future history. 

There’s another important aspect of American culture that unfortunately has waned to dangerous levels during the past few decades, and that is civic responsibility. We live in an extremely individualistic culture. The only issue that can arise from that is when people fail to see themselves as a small part of something larger. It’s a hip thing to do in modern times, to rail against society. To shed cultural norms, declare your individuality, and swim upstream against the current. I am 100% in favor of all that, as long as people never forget the macroscopic reality. That reality is that being a member of a civilized society is a social contract. Community, agreement, and empathy for others are the forms of payment we provide to the debt of being accepted into a society instead of being abandoned in the cruel indifference of nature’s jungle. For society to exist, it has to be understood that we will take care of, protect and provide for each other, especially in difficult times. 

The latest information about the outbreak of the Coronavirus appears as if the people that are most at risk of serious illness and death are the elderly, and individuals with underlying health issues/compromised immune systems. That is good news for the majority of the American population. The real test is how you move forward. Unfortunately, I’m seeing a lot of people refusing to do their part to try to slow the spread of this virus to give our healthcare system a fighting chance of minimizing the damage. People assuming that the worst that can happen to them is they get a little cough, and they’ll be damned if that’s going to stop them from a green Guinness on St. Paddy’s Day. At the same time I’m thinking about the 7 year old girl with Asthma locked in her room scared to death because she knows that she is in the small percentage of people that are most at risk. I’m also thinking about her parents who are forced to go to work everyday because they can’t afford to take time off. They go out and expose themselves to the virus knowing that they could possibly bring it home and make their child fatally ill. They do this because they have no other choice, and they wonder, when it gets bad in the U.S. like it has in many other countries, will there be enough hospital beds or respirators to keep their daughter alive. 

“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.” – Fred Rogers

I’m pleading with every single person I can reach, realize that there is going to be tremendous suffering and loss over the next weeks/months, but, we have the opportunity to have a small amount of control over the extent of the damage. Our actions now will come home to roost in the next few weeks. I’m not here to try and preach, or shame people. I just want to point out that there are tough times ahead, and I would recommend everyone asking themselves the same question. “What am I doing to help?”

Photo credit: British Library