Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion Politics

Aftermath wisdom from Mister Rogers: ‘Look for the helpers’

Children's television icon Mister Rogers accepts applause in the East Room of the White House on April 3, 2002 during the launch of the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) national campaign to promote children's literacy. Photo courtesy of Reuters *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-RIESS-OPED, originally transmitted on Nov. 9, 2016.

 

Children's television icon Mister Rogers accepts applause in the East Room of the White House on April 3, 2002 during the launch of the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) national campaign to promote children's literacy. Photo courtesy of Reuters *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-RIESS-OPED, originally transmitted on Nov. 9, 2016.

Children’s television icon Mister Rogers accepts applause in the East Room of the White House on April 3, 2002 during the launch of the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) national campaign to promote children’s literacy. Photo courtesy of Reuters *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-RIESS-OPED, originally transmitted on Nov. 9, 2016.

(RNS) I scarcely slept last night. Like many of you, I am shocked and devastated by what our country has just done.

Earlier this morning I had to explain to my daughter that after she went to sleep last night, a bully became the leader of the free world — a man who has taunted people like her, people who have disabilities.

A man who has boasted of sexually assaulting women.

A man whose disdain for immigrants and people of color has no place in a land that was built by hardworking immigrants.

A man who has zero experience in public service and has only ever cared about enriching himself, whether his advancement came from exploiting his workers or refusing to pay nearly a billion dollars in taxes.

It is a terrible feeling to wake up in this America, the America that has forgotten that when we sing our unsingable national anthem, it always ends with a question mark:

Oh, say! does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

And that is a question that can only be answered by us, in every generation, as we realize that our freedoms are a hard-won privilege and not a given. Will we continue to be the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It’s not a foregone conclusion.

What I told my daughter this morning is that it is up to us. And the first step is to remember some wise advice that Fred Rogers’ mother once gave him when he was young and afraid. Mister Rogers later wrote:

I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.

For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.

There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.

After this traumatic election, look for the helpers. Look for the people who serve others and stand up to bullies. Look for the quiet heroes who are as committed to preserving the rights of their Muslim neighbors as they are their own.

As Mister Rogers taught us, look for the helpers.

The next step is harder: Become a helper yourself. It’s worth saying again, every day if necessary: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” We will, as Dumbledore once told Harry Potter, sometimes have to choose between what is right and what is easy. When others are skilled in “spreading discord and enmity,” we stand together. We stand up for each other. We uphold the common good.

Because if we don’t, the consequences are unthinkable.

(Jana Riess writes the Flunking Sainthood column for RNS)

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

13 Comments

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  • Much like you, I wasn’t able to get much sleep last night. I prayed to know what to do to protect my family, and the answer instead was that I needed to help those who’ll be most negatively affected by a Trump presidency. Specifically, that means I need to donate more time and more money to refugee programs and other such things.

  • Yes, we’ve been doing some soul-searching in my family about how we can find some light in this darkness. I told my daughter this morning about Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” speech that moved me so much this past summer. Now it’s time to put it into action and limit the terrible damage that can be done to our country’s ideals by a Trump presidency.

  • Wow. I’m not a Mormon, but Mormons DID choose to vote for Trump (there’s no other way to explain the Utah vote!).

    I, too, agree with Mr. Roger’s advice. I’m just surprised to see Mormons demonizing other Mormons at this level.

  • So tired of people on both sides of the aisle calling the other side ‘evil’. It is an intellectually bankrupt statement.

  • It was a GREAT election!! Every third party got TWICE their usual vote, except the LP and GP, which each got THRICE!! Excellent progress towards breaking this terrible system you’ve given us to work with and giving people true choices!!

    Now if the results weren’t great for you, maybe try blaming yourself. Your party put forth a candidate SO BAD she lost to DONALD TRUMP of all people. A candidate SO BAD that REPUBLICANS won MICHIGAN. You guys could’ve probably nominated a sandwich and won this thing but you just had to try to out-bad the opposition with your candidate choice!! This is the bed you’ve made.

    You and the Republicans have colluded to create a system where the winners can ONLY ever be you and the Republicans. You two have stacked the system against the REST of us, ensuring we can NEVER win. You’ve created the system that lets the Republicans gain power around half the time in exchange for you having power around half the time. You’re the reason the Republicans are in power right now. It’s the system you designed. It’s the system you endorsed. And it’s the candidate you empowered to win by nominating such a terrible alternative. You earned this result.

  • It is critical that we reconcile with one another. Time for the pain of loss and fear to heal is first.

    I proudly and excitedly voted for Sec. Clinton.

    I have a strong aversion to the president- elect and nearly all of his positions. Nonetheless, he will soon be my president because he won more than 270 electoral votes. That’s how American elections work. I think it’s a poor system, but it’s what we have. I will do what I can, short of compromising my principles, to help him succeed.

    I will do that because I am an American and do love my country. I will not try to sabotage him as republicans relentlessly did to President Obama and I will urge my Washington representatives not to. I will not put my personal agenda ahead of what is best for the country.

    I want America to succeed more than I want to get my way. I want America to be big, strong, open, kind and lead the world in the best way for each individual. I do not want an America shriveled, frightened, and closed to the world. I will support the president- elect whenever I can.

  • Only the first verse of the national anthem ends with a question mark. The other three versus end with an affirmation concerning the flag.

  • It seems to me Ms. Riess missed a golden opportunity to remind her daughter of the One in Whom her hope and foundation lies, by reading the last verse of the Star Spangled Banner. Mr. Key answered his own question.

    O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
    Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
    Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
    Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

  • Hi Jana,

    Thanks for the blog and the post. I’ve been especially troubled by Julie B. Beck’s public support of Trump. I was wondering if that might merit a blog post from you. I would love to read your thoughts about it.

    ,

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