Before Keanu Reeves and his infectiously likable character that became mainstream, there was Mister Rogers.
I hadn’t heard of him until a documentary about his life called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” recommended by Tim Ferriss, became popularised. Then Tom Hanks starred as Mister Rogers in the film “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” and my eyes were further opened to his life’s work.
After watching both films, it became clear that Mister Rogers had mastered the art of been likable.
While watching both movies, I wrote down a list of all the ways Mister Rogers became so likable, so that anyone who wants to mimic the extraordinary results he produced while being alive, could have a short guide to do so. Here is how to be as likable as Mister Rogers.
Make light of dark topics
The TV show that made Mister Rogers famous was called “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” It was a kid’s TV show and often contained dark topics which Mister Rogers was able to present in a positive way.
His ideas about death and the inevitable event we will all face were spoken about using puppets, a dead goldfish lying in a tank that was later buried, and through the use of songs and puppets.
He took a dark subject like death and found something positive in it both for children and for the adults that would watch his show with their children. One such example saw Mister Rogers reflecting on what his mother used to say to him about death:
“Always look for the people who are helping.”
“You’ll always find somebody who’s trying to help.”
Even with a dark topic like death, there is a way to find the positive if you take Mister Rogers’ advice that he learned from his mother. It’s easy to find a horrible outlook from a dark topic — but it’s much harder to see the good and that’s one way to become more likable. Because people fall in love with those that can find the good in every situation.
Make everyone feel good
The whole way through watching both films, the viewer is left feeling good. You feel good for many reasons and most of them tie back to one central theme: it’s so easy to be a good person if you try hard enough the way Mister Rogers did.
There is so much to feel bad or guilty about in life and the internet only amplifies this problem. People that make us feel good are uncommon and so when we’re introduced to such an individual, we like them.
By making us feel good about the world, we feel good about ourselves.
And when we feel good about ourselves, we can achieve outcomes that we may otherwise of believed to be impossible. Make people feel good.
Give everybody your full attention
Ever spoken to someone about an important topic and they are looking at their phone or computer and giving you a small amount of their attention? You feel horrible and wish that they would just listen.
Mister Rogers was different — granted, technology was not robbing us of our attention during his era the way it is now. During many scenes reenacted by Tom Hanks in the film about Mister Rogers’ life (and confirmed by the journalist he was talking with, Tom Junod), Rogers takes a deep interest in everybody he talks with. He asked them questions about themselves and leaves them pondering thoughts long after the conversation is done.
He takes pictures with people he meets and calls them friends, making them feel important.
People love it when you pay attention to them and the way you do that is by being genuinely curious and asking questions about them, rather than talking about yourself.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less — CS Lewis
Plans don’t always work out
It one scene of the film, Mister Rogers says, “I want kids to know that plans don’t always work out.”
For a typically positive man, this may seem like strange advice. What makes Mister Rogers likable is that he tells the truth and doesn’t sugarcoat brutal life lessons.
By knowing that our plans won’t always work out, we can be prepared for it and not be disappointed or have our thoughts turn to trash when our plans fail. The corporate world has long told me that I must have a business plan (helpful advice), but what is often left out is that even with a plan, things generally don’t go accordingly.
Having a plan is not a way to prevent failure or even prevent it.
Positive ways to deal with feelings
Mister Rogers’ key theme of his TV show that made him likable was to find positive ways to deal with feelings.
We are going to have unhelpful feelings and learning to deal with them is far more useful than trying to suppress them or numb them with alcohol, drugs, binge-watching tv, being unkind on social media or eating junk food.
You deal with feelings by facing them head-on and looking inside yourself at the good and not-so-good parts of who you are.
Get people to tell the truth
Good luck ever trying to lie to Mister Rogers. He was known for getting people on and off camera, to tell the truth. There were the pauses and the stares into their eyes that unconsciously helped them to say what needed to be said.
Talking with Mister Rogers was refreshing because you knew that he wasn’t going to judge you or force you to agree with his view of the world.
Helping people tell the truth is useful and you do that, mostly, from listening to them and letting them know that you’re not going to judge them.
Know everyone’s name
One of the simplest hacks to be likable, that is often overlooked, is to remember people’s names. Cast, crew, journalists and the extras on set were often surprised by Mister Rogers’s uncanny ability to remember their first name and it made them feel valued.
No matter how famous or influential you are, do your best to remember people’s names.
Researching someone before you meet them shows you care and they’ll like you for it. When Esquire journalist Tom Junod met Mister Rogers, he was surprised at how much research he had done on him.
Their conversations were deep and the friendship that developed later on was partly made possible by the research Rogers had done prior to meeting Tom. With social platforms dominating our lives, we can use them to be well-researched and incredibly curious when we meet someone for the first time.
I personally like to read up on the hobbies of business clients before I meet them to understand them from a different angle. You can tell me about your business, but I’ll learn more by hearing about your hobbies and why you chose them. Because hobbies and business are closely linked.
Give people a chance
Tom didn’t exactly have a brilliant reputation as a journalist with the way he wrote and it was risky, in a way, for Rogers to be followed around and written about by Tom.
But Mister Rogers gave people a chance and lets his character do the talking for him. Even with Tom’s controversial style of writing, it was impossible not to be inspired by Mister Rogers and share that truth with the audience.
See who people can be and not who they currently are, and trust your character to do the talking for you.
Show huge amounts of empathy
Another key theme of the TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was the teaching of empathy. It was a key theme throughout many of the 900 episodes and was acted out by Rogers himself and then portrayed through some of the characters featured in the show.
Joanne Rogers, widow of Mister Rogers, mentioned an interesting idea in an interview with NBC:
“Listen, it’s important for you to know that he was not a saint. Because if you think of him as a saint, then his message is unattainable.”
Being a saint makes the idea of empathy and kindness unattainable and the fact that you have made many mistakes and don’t always see the good in people is perfectly fine.
We’re likable because of who we are, not for unattainable perfection.
Work at your way of being
You may think Mister Rogers was never angry, given his outlook on life. In both films it becomes clear that he was, at times, angry. When asked about his children, he would admit that they were not perfect either.
Everything Rogers does is a work in progress. The reason his anger didn’t dominate was because he learned to work at it and deal with it. The same opportunity exists for you. You’re going to get angry, especially when you’re tired, and working with those feelings is useful. How can you channel that anger into something positive?
Rogers teaches us that we can choose how we respond to anger rather than have the default option selected for us and be held back by it. Working on yourself is how you become more likable and minimize anger that turns people against you.
Write back to people that support you
Mister Rogers would write back to his fans and meet them in real-life. He was generous with his time and gave it to people that needed it.
This is a huge learning for me. Lots of people will support you in your life as it progresses and when they reach out, you have the opportunity to connect with them. People find you more likable when you take the time to respond to them, even if it’s a brief response.
It’s one of the key reasons I do my best to respond to any reader that contacts me directly.
Don’t take the people who support you for granted, and you’ll be more likable for it.
Ever met someone with a giant mansion and a Lambo in the driveway? It’s hard to relate to them, isn’t it?
Mister Rogers was known for taking the subway each day to the TV studio even though his fame meant that he didn’t have to. Like the viral footage of Keanu Reeves riding the subway, Mister Rogers did the same because he lived modestly. You could relate to him because he was just like you.
He let his character shine rather than let his ego be polished and put on display with the accumulation of money. Perhaps Keanu learned this life lesson from Mister Rogers.
The world doesn’t need another rich dude flaunting their money and making us feel like a failure.
We need more people riding the subway and using their money to make a real difference.
Live within your means. Avoid the temptation to buy fancy stuff and you’ll be more likable because you’ll be relatable.
Sharing your problems is bravery
Mister Rogers wasn’t afraid to talk about his problems. It was a small act of bravery that helped the audience understand their own problems through his.
Demonstrating you’re imperfect through talking about your problems is useful. This insight was what inspired me to talk more about mental illness and it may have the same effect on you.
It’s okay not to be okay.
No normal life is free from pain
“There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth” — Mister Rogers
By the end of watching the film Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I was in tears. Why? Because the genuine kindness of Mister Rogers and the legacy he has left us is hard to comprehend. The film didn’t just have this effect on me.
When Director Marielle Heller was given the script to the movie Tom Hanks would later star in, she said:
“When Peter Saraf, one of the producers, sent the script to me, it made me weep. It felt so important and it felt like something I wanted to spend my time doing and I could feel like I’m putting something good out into the world by making this movie.”
Mister Rogers can teach us to be more likable, but perhaps the more important thought to ponder is this:
Who you choose to be has the power and potential to impact people in a way that outlives your existence.
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