The Hypnotic Persuasion of Mr. Rogers
Just saw Won't You Be My Neighbor? at the classic Gateway Theater in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
I almost didn't want to watch this movie in theaters because it seems like a typical celebrity biography... But it's cathartic theatrical watch. At times it seems to artistically echo the world waiting for us directly outside the movie theater doors... At others, the emotions become so overwhelming, it's nice to know other people in the theater feel the same way (because you can hear them sniffling too) but are shrouded in darkness so you can privately sniffle.
The big idea of the film is the big idea of Mr. Rogers: You are loved just the way you are.
The wording is simple. The idea is simple. But it's radical.
You know it's radical because when you hear it, something inside of you blossoms open. Like little bursts of feel good waves, every time you hear it — you are loved just the way you are.
See? It's like Fred Rogers accidentally discovered this linguistic-technology to make people feel better about themselves, and to make the world a better place.
At the end of the film, you hear his specific definition of this phrase: That you do not need to accomplish anything sensational for people to love you.
You are loved just the way you are. That is such a ludicrously radical idea I feel like it's full realization has yet to arrive.
So many people are driven by a desire to be loved, extending from a lack of love.
When you walk through a mall, online, when you drive down a highway, every advertisement communicates: You could be loved... If you bought this product.
Fred Rogers says: You don't need anything spectacular to be loved.
It's radical because it also highlights how sick America is. How sick the world is.
There's a lot in this movie to talk about. I feel like the main drive of the picture had to do with the ethics of mass communication... This is obviously a fascinating subject, for another time.
It's a great movie. It'll help you feel feelings you forgot you had.
Anyway, real quick — I want to talk about Mr. Rogers convincing the senator to not defund PBS. I've seen that clip many times. It's awesome.
But when I saw it in the movie, I realized that some subtle stuff was going on with Mr. Rogers... I wonder how much was deliberate, if any of it was at all, or if it was simply one of those moments where everything magically lined up.
Either way, some lessons can be discerned from it.
Here's three things I noticed that I think helped Mr. Rogers persuade the senator:
1) Use the pronoun of the listener's gender.
When he's speaking to mass media, Fred says he/she. But when he was speaking to the senator — the one person who needed to be persuaded — he kept saying "he" in reference to children in general.
I can't help but wonder if this linguistic trick made it easier for the senator to regress emotionally back into childhood. I've seen this kind of thing brought up in NLP courses, and hypnotic techniques in general: childhood regression.
Perhaps if you're speaking to a specific "big cat" influencer, it could help your appeal to speak directly to their gender pronoun... At least, perhaps, to men. I'm not sure if the same would work for women but I'd like to think hypnosis knows no bounds. This is just a guess.
However, if you look at the clip you'll notice Mr. Rogers does refer to collective children as "he" and that the senator seems to slip from a stone-cold guy into a giddy kid.
2) Tell the listener you love them just the way they are (even if subconsciously).
I know this seems silly but Mr. Rogers pulls it off.
Operating under the assumption that he's a secret persuasion sorcerer, I believe the way he communicated this to the senator was indirectly — to the unconscious mind. Borrowing from the world of psychoanalysis, the idea here is that just hearing the phrase "you are love just the way you are" registers in the brain as a subconscious command.
So when Mr. Rogers says, "This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child. To help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, 'You've made this day a special day by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.'"
Although he obviously isn't saying it directly to the senator... Y'know, "Hey senator, I love you just the way you are." It's a bit awkward in this situation.
But by talking about it as his mission, and saying the phrase in simple direct language, the listener can't but help hear it being said directly to him, directly to the little boy in his heart. That's why the senator was emotionally moved.
Fred also mentioned a few times how he's concerned about the media children consume, "as you are, senator." Mr. Rogers makes an active effort to validate the listener's feelings.
3) Tell an emotional story mirroring the inner state of the listener, & how to over come it.
At the end of Mr. Rogers's plea, he reads the lyrics to one of his songs. The lyrics talk about how a boy gets mad and wants to stomp around to show he's mad, but instead if he looked inside and realized how he felt, and talked about it, maybe instead he could see that it's okay to be mad and have feelings. It's okay to recognize the importance of feelings.
The senator at that point is totally on board. But hold up.
Did you notice what just happened?
I believe Mr. Rogers — whether purposefully or not — was able to slip the senator into a hypnotic-emotional journey where he imaged himself as being angry and recognizing his anger (defunding PBS), talking about his anger (through the congressional hearings), and then realizing it's important to feel his feelings (by leaving PBS funded).
So, that little song Mr. Rogers sang at the end doesn't seem so benign after all.
Whether he knew it or not, Fred guided the listening decision maker on a fully immersive emotional narrative who's subject subtly instructs the listener on what to do: first by validating the listeners emotions, then helping them work out a fair resolution.