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Why Kindness? What we can learn from Mister Rogers and Big Bird

by Mark Cammack    August 15, 2019

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There are many ways of experiencing life. Each circumstance is as unique as the persons in it. Are there guidelines for better living that can help us all? Absolutely!

If we want to have happy, healthy lives it only makes sense to live in a happy, healthy way. Having seen a lot of human behavior and outcomes, there are observable helpful patterns that can benefit us. These may help us keep better brain states which affect the rest of the body and even other people.

Have you ever watched the Sesame Street educational program as a child, with your family, or even as an adult to simply relax? What were the lessons to be learned from Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch? For those who may not have seen the educational program, the characters are oversized puppets with human traits.

Image of Sesame Street characters Oscar the Grouch in his trash can looking up at Big Bird. They are in a kitchen.

The Educational Odd Couple: Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch have antipodal personalities.

Big Bird is a tall yellow canary who is caring and considerate of others. Oscar the Grouch is a green grumpy selfish monster who lives in a trash can. He adores garbage and does not like anyone who is nice. People try to be nice to him anyway. Do either of these personas sound like anyone you ever met? How did each of their lives go?

The type of person we are can lead to outcomes. We don't want to wind up in a proverbial trash can. When psychologist Dr. Albert Bandura of Stanford University observed the power of social learning, it was noteworthy. Children imitated adults, as most parents and teachers know. Televised programs could hold attention for lengthy periods while providing role and behavior models. Aggression was especially emulated. The magnitude of behavior was what was astounding. It is possible that entire families, groups, and even cultures perpetuate things that are harmful to themselves. If that is true, why not have healthiness and positivity perpetuated?

"There are skilled and unskilled ways of doing things." - Buddhist proverb

I would like to suggest that a significant part of a good life is how our brains are working. Aggressive behavior for some is a regular lifestyle choice. It can come from unthinking minds as a fast solution to challenges, as a means of control, or to be the top dog. It can be modeled from what we watch in life, TV, or film. It is the opposite of kindness.

Consider this: What you do to or for another person, you do to or for yourself. Aggressive people also damage themselves. Their biochemistry, brain functioning, and immune system can be affected. For example, in some martial arts schools the participants can incur injuries. While attending even a peaceful Aikido class, I saw a man who attempted to properly perform a movement as the aggressor. This is a normal part of practice. His shoulder was instantly dislocated. It was an unfortunate occurrence. It is symbolic of what people do daily with their own minds. They hurt themselves.

If violent or high stress situations are viewed or experienced there is an effect on us. The brain can physically rewire and have bad biochemical changes. It is possible this may lead to burn-out, chronic fatigue, and high blood pressure. With biofeedback the stress response can be measured. Heart and breathing rates rise, there are electrical changes in the body, and stress hormones such as cortisol increase. Cortisol is sometimes referred to as the death hormone as overproduction can lead to our demise. It tends to be aging as well.

Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in suit and tie.

Fred Rogers in 1969 speaking to Congress on behalf of educational television and children everywhere.

Do you remember Fred Rogers? He was the benevolent fellow from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood who taught us to be thoughtful kind human beings. Parents liked the man. They said he was wonderful and their children were better for him being there. Some adults also watched the show because it was soothing.

Mister Rogers mentions being influenced by a humanitarian role model in his book Life's Journeys According To Fred Rogers. He was watching a TV program when the Dalai Lama appeared and spoke of compassion. The idea conveyed was that the actions of others should not dictate what we do in return. That is how we can tell who is real: the beliefs and intention and behavior are the same. It is not simply a face put on for social grace. The world can do what it will and the same good remains.

Our intelligence, minds, and health can improve with supportive environments. Our entire development as human beings is promoted in this way. In pleasant kind environs we learn to care for others and ourselves. Our brains and bodies work better. There is less stress and more joy.

Do you think it is possible that by having a positive intent and manner toward others it may affect us? Could the images we hold in our minds create an outcome? Perhaps there are kind and unkind ways of doing things.

I am not sure that we require additional psychologists. It could be that we can use uplifting role models in daily life. The world needs more warm-hearted Mister Rogers and Big Birds.

Works consulted

Bandura, Albert. Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press. 1971.

Bandura, Albert, et al. Transmission of Aggression Through Imitation of Aggressive Models. Journal of Abnormal And Social Psychology. Vol. 63, No. 3, (1963): 575-582.

Pall, Martin L. The NO/ONOO-cycle as the central cause of heart failure. International journal of molecular sciences. Vol. 14,11 22274-330. 13 Nov. 2013, doi:10.3390/ijms141122274

Pall, Martin L. Common etiology of posttraumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity via elevated nitric oxide/peroxynitrite. Med Hypotheses. 57(2):139-45. Aug 2001.

Rogers, Fred. Life's Journeys According To Fred Rogers. New York: Hyperion. 2005. pp.26-27.

Rogers, Fred. The World According To Mister Rogers. New York: Hyperion. 2003.

Selye, Hans. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1984.


The Educational Odd Couple: Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch is a derivative work made by author, the What you do to or for another is an original work by author, both are © Copyright 2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved. Public domain original sources are:

Big Bird: Wikimedia

Oscar the Grouch: flickr

Fred Rogers 1969 photo: Wikimedia Commons

© Copyright 2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.