“Look for the Helpers”: Fred Rogers’ Powerful Message for Tragic Times

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During times of tragedy, we can find some comfort in the fact that good people come forward to help. It is heartening to know that most of us do have the empathy and courage to make things better.

There’s been a rash of tragic events in the US over the past several days. And the senselessness of the acts thought to be behind some of those events has had some wondering whether the whole world has gone mad. But in the midst of all the questioning, agony, dissonance, and search for answers, especially in the face of what appear to be premeditated acts of terror, some powerful words by Fred Rogers (of public television’s Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood fame) have been repeatedly referenced by many on TV news and talk shows, internet blogs, and radio programs. Perhaps there’s no better time to contemplate such words than when tragedy invites us to question the basic decency of humankind, or the character of life itself.

I’ve never read the book from which the often repeated quote of Mr Rogers is reportedly taken (i.e. Mister Rogers Talks with Parents ), but according to one of the better websites I visited that cite it, the passage goes like this:

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.

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After the bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon, several athletes and even spectators joined police officers in rushing toward those who were injured to see if they could help, instead of simply running for their lives. And some of the marathon participants, even after having completed an exhausting 26 mile trek, ran an additional 1.5 to 2 miles, cutting through wall-to-wall traffic, to get to hospitals so they could donate blood. Such courage and decency is not only notable, but somehow helps take some of the sting out of the reality that there are some heartless fanatics out there who placed their own self-serving agendas above the welfare of anyone else, and plotted this heinous event.

It wasn’t long after the events in Boston that we learned of another calamity in West, Texas. And in that tragedy, just as was the case during the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, it was largely the first responders trying to get as many as possible to safety who paid the dearest price. But once again, this disaster demonstrated that when tragedy strikes, that’s when the best in humanity often really begins to shine. There’s something in most of us — a deep abiding regard for our common welfare, rooted in our capacity for empathy — that can prompt us to summon uncommon courage and to do the truly heroic thing. And when any of us witnesses that heroism, it helps soothe just a bit of the pain that disaster inflicts.

I’m probably best known for calling attention to the problem of those characters among us who are lacking in sufficient decency, empathy, respect for others, and a commitment to behave responsibly. And many have suggested that my books, especially Character Disturbance, promote the notion that there are fewer decent people around these days than there were in years past. But the actual point I’ve tried to make in my writings is not that there’s no decency left, but rather that the dominant factors at play in people’s psychological and relationship problems these days are character issues, as opposed to the pathological levels of ‘neurosis’ that characterized times past. There are still some very decent people out there. And, unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons too complicated to mention here, the burdens such folks willingly carry on their shoulders increase almost every day. That’s why I find it so remarkable, as well as refreshing and energizing, to witness decent people mobilizing resources and investing their energies to make things better, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

Not a day goes by that you don’t hear yet another story of valiance or heroism related to the recent spate of tragedies. Although hearts have definitely been wounded, most spirits have not been broken. Tragedies not only test, but also bear witness to the resilience of the human spirit. And when, during times of senseless disasters, we find ourselves scratching our heads and questioning the sanity of the world around us, we need only heed the words of our late friendly neighbor Fred Rogers: “Look for the helpers.” They will have you believing again.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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