Mister Rogers was a very big part of my childhood. He was a gentle, loving presence on television that reminded there were people in the world who were wholesome and truly cared about others, even if they seemed like they were in awfully short supply in my own life.
Even now, 15 years after his death, it’s rare that more than a few days go by that I’m not reminded of something he said, whether it’s through one of my own memories or stumbling upon a shared meme.
It’s impossible to know precisely how Fred Rogers would have spoken about polyamory had he been directly asked. He seemed a profoundly earnest and caring individual, but he was also a Presbyterian minister and could have just as well objected to non-monogamy on religious grounds. To my own thinking, both positive and negative views are possible.
What I do know for sure is that he said a great deal of things in his 74 years on Earth that, frankly, serve as great advice for people practicing polyamory.
Here are some of my favorites, taken both from interviews he’s done as well as from his fantastic book, The World According to Mister Rogers.
1. “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.”
Pain is a normal part of life and can actually be productive when it leads to growth.
As I wrote in a previous post, just because something hurts for a moment doesn’t mean that it’ll hurt forever. And in the long run, pain can lead to better things. In fact, a lot of positive outcomes involve enduring pain or stress on the way to your goal. People understand this when they’re talking about going to the gym, but they forget about it when we’re talking about personal challenge and emotional growth.
In polyamory, there’s an interesting cognitive reframe that I found very helpful to internalize: Just because I’m hurt doesn’t mean that anyone’s done something wrong.
It could mean that. But not necessarily.
Emotions are intense, binary, and often very lacking in nuance. They’re rough judgment calls our body makes in response to a very complicated external social world.
- 8 Lessons that I Learned from Both Polyamory and Kink
- Cultivating Compersion Can Be a Helpful Distraction from the Pain of Tackling Jealousy and Insecurity
2. “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard other people say, “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
In the past, it was practically my catchphrase. Like one of those old talking toys that cycle through a list of lines when you pull the string:
- “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
- “I’m sorry.”
- “You know what I mean?”
- “That probably sounds weird.”
But the secret is: There’s no should.
You feel how you feel.
- Stop Shoulding All Over Yourself
- Emotional Ergonomics: There’s No Should. You Feel How You Feel.
- How to Be Jealous in a Productive Way (9 Steps)
3. “Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”
Expressing and acknowledging our own feelings are strong acts, not signs of weakness.
When people get jealous, they often become ashamed of the jealousy, which is a secondary trauma loop, where you’re beating yourself up over and over again, punishing yourself for feeling (pretty normal) negative feelings.
Shame is the real killer. Not the fear, the anxiety, the jealousy. But shame. In basic survival terms, if the tribe rejects you, you die. Exile was death to our ancestors. Shame is a sense that you are unacceptable, that you don’t belong. And your brain feels like it’s life or death.
Suggested Reading: Please Be Jealous
4. “Love is like infinity: You can’t have more or less infinity, and you can’t compare two things to see if they’re ‘equally infinite.’ Infinity just is, and that’s the way I think love is, too.”
It’s a very strange thing to try to quantify love.
Sometimes people will try to set up rules for relationships such as “you must love both of us equally” or “you can see other people, but you can’t love them more than me.” Setting rules governing emotions in general is quite a tricky prospect as emotions are often not under our control (although we are normally in control of how we act in response to those emotions).
Furthermore, as Mister Rogers points out, it’s a strange thing to quantify love and then express it in terms of equality or inequality. Love isn’t a finite currency — you don’t just take a love dollar and split it into love quarters.
Suggested Reading: Getting Away from Comparisons
5. “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to someone else.”
You can feel a sense of personal pride and happiness about what you give to others and not just what you get from them.
This was a huge shift in my thinking after I’d been polyamorous for a while. I realized when it came to my happiness, it didn’t have to be all about me. I genuinely stopped viewing things as zero sum, like there was only so much happiness out there and that when other people had it, it meant that I was naturally going to miss out.
At that point, I was also able to take a lot of mental and emotional energy that I used to expend on comparing myself to others and wondering how I measured up and spend it in different ways. In friendships, this led to supporting friends more actively in their endeavors and not being bitter or envious of their successes. In polyamory, this often translated into trying to be the best metamour I could be to my partners’ other partners.
- Building Others Up: Attacking Zero Sum Thinking at the Source
- It’s Like She Gave Me a T-Shirt That Says “World’s Best Metamour”
- You Have to Fall in Love with Metamours
6. “What matters isn’t how a person’s inner life finally puts together the alphabet and numbers of his outer life. What really matters is whether he uses the alphabet for the declaration of a war or the description of a sunrise–his numbers for the final count at Buchenwald or the specifics of a brand-new bridge.”
It’s important to be careful how you use tools because anything can be weaponized.
It’s tempting when you’re exposed to new ideas to absorb them but only superficially. Learning them without really changing or staying vulnerable and curious. And I find that sometimes people will learn new techniques and frameworks and instead of applying them in a way that encourages their own personal growth will attempt to use them in ways that unfairly control or harm others. It’s important to recognize this in yourself if you fall into this trap and important to be aware of when others are doing it.
- How to Fail at Communication Before You Say a Single Word
- PQ 7.8 — Does my communication show that I take responsibility for my actions and emotions?
- PQ 14.4 — What will happen if someone breaks the agreement? Do we have a path for reestablishing trust?
- Anything You Ever Say or Write Can Be Weaponized. And Easily.
7. “Solitude is different from loneliness, and it doesn’t have to be a lonely kind of thing.”
Being alone and being lonely are different.
Learning to prize my alone time was one of the biggest adjustments I had when I became polyamorous. It was difficult at first, but now I actually look forward to it!
- PQ 18.2 — Do I enjoy time to myself or without my partner? Do I have hobbies I enjoy alone or with others, and a social life that does not rely on my partner?
- Home Alone? No Worries, Take Yourself on a Date
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8. “Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love. Like all of life’s important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives.”
Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but it’s an important skill.
Forgiving and forgetting are different things of course. It can be difficult to get past certain things. And you don’t have to forgive everything or everyone. But resentment is particularly toxic to any sort of social relationship.
Suggested Reading: How Do We Get Back to Okay?