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Mr. Rogers On the Best Gift You Can Give

By Motley Fool Staff - Nov 22, 2019 at 12:17PM

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It's not the things that hide you, it's not your fancy toys.

Mr. Rogers was an infinite source of kindness and wisdom. His show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood ran for over 30 seasons and over 900 episodes, bringing life lessons to decades of children. 

Back in 2002, Motley Fool co-founders Tom and David Gardner chatted with Mr. Rogers on the Motley Fool Radio Show about how to teach kids about money, what fuels greed, and the best gift you can give.

A full transcript follows the video. 

Fred Rogers: Well, I think one of the best things that we can do as parents is to remember what it was like to be a child. Get to know who the children are. Ask them to help you. Introduce them to people of excellence, and tell them what you expect of them and expect their best, but not perfection. Well, I think one of the best things that we can do as parents is to remember what it was like to be a child. Get to know who the children are. Ask them to help you. Introduce them to people of excellence, and tell them what you expect of them and expect their best, but not perfection.

Tom Gardner: Let me ask, what do you think parents should be teaching their kids about money?

Rogers: I feel that feelings about money, saving and spending, holding back and letting go start very early in our lives. Stingy people have often been forced to give when they were very young, when they weren't ready. Generous people have often been really appreciated when they were very young.

I think it's so important to remember that every one has something to give. Everyone has something to give, and everyone needs something to receive. There isn't anybody in the world who is completely self sufficient. There isn't anyone who doesn't have at least something to give.

David Gardner: You were born in the Western Pennsylvania town of Latrobe in 1928. That of course a year before the stock market crashed and the great depression began. There are a lot of people today who are looking at their financial situation after what's happened with the market and reevaluating their priorities.

What was your experience with money growing up during and just after the great depression?

Rogers: I think most of us who grew up in the depression are quite conscious of being careful with money and other things. I mean, probably the roots of my recycling start in the depression. I recycle everything I possibly can find. I'll stop my car and pick up a plastic bottle on the street and take it home to recycle.

When the tenor of the whole country is such that everything is limited, that sticks with you. I was only two, three, four years old at that time. Yet you get those attitudes from the people that you live with, those who are closest to you.

David Gardner: Mr. Rogers, since both Tom and I grew up watching your show, we're well aware of you as a persona. That's why I have to ask is Fred Rogers, Fred Rogers?

Rogers: My wife says it best. People say to her, "Is he really like that?" She said, "What you see is what you get." I don't know whether you sense that from our visit here today, but I think the greatest gift that anybody can give anybody else ... As a matter of fact, the only unique gift that anybody can give is his or her honest self.

Nobody could give you Dave to anybody else. Nobody could give you Tom to anybody else. You're the only one who can give yourself to somebody else.

David Gardner: It makes complete sense, and obviously you have lived what you've just described. When I think back watching your show and as I hear you speak now, you project such a sense of calmness. You create a tremendous sense of calm in the people who listen to you.

Do you ever go a little bit crazy? Do you ever get angry?

Rogers: Oh sure, in fact I wrote a song, what do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite? Well, a little child said that once. I get angry when I think that justice isn't being served. To me, justice is taking care of those who aren't able to take care of themselves.

That's the thing that can get up my ire. Well, you ask.

David Gardner: Right, and let's talk a little bit more about justice just briefly. Some of our listeners may not know that you're also an ordained Presbyterian minister. As someone who's spent your life talking about values, living those values, what's your take on some of the scandals that have played out in corporate America over the last few years speaking about not taking care of the people that we work with in many cases?

Rogers: Exactly. Well, what do you think it is that drives people to want far more than they could ever use or need? I frankly think it's insecurity. How do we let the world know that the trappings of this life are not the things that are ultimately important for being accepted?
Fred Rogers: That's what I've tried to do all through the years with the neighborhood. It's you I like, it's not the things you wear. It's not the way you do your hair, but it's you I like. The way you are right now, the way down deep inside you.

Not the things that hide you, not your fancy toys, they're just beside you, but it's you I like. Every part of you, your skin, your eyes, your feelings, whether old or new. I hope that you'll remember even when you're feeling blue that it's you I like, it's you, yourself, it's you. It's you I like.

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