In the hours since news broke of the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, many Internet users have seen and shared the movie advice that Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives in the clip above.
Although the quotation has appeared all over Twitter and Facebook since then, the source of its latest virality—based on timing and share numbers—appears to be the comedian Patton Oswalt, who tweeted:
“Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.” — Fred Rogers, on what to do when scary things are on the news #boston
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 15, 2013
His message has, so far, been retweeted more than 8,000 times and favorited more than 2,500 times. The tweet appears to be timestamped as the first such one of the day. (The comedian also wrote a heartfelt meditation on the tragedy—first on Facebook, then reprinted on the Huffington Post—that has proved equally viral.)
In a related clip, Rogers encourages parents to help children sort fantasy and imagination from truth, and to offer assurances that they know “that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time.” But it’s the “helpers” quote that, if Internet exposure is any indication, most comforts adults as well. It tends to reappear after massive tragedies, most recently the Newtown shootings.
In 1999, Rogers gave a fuller account of the idea in an interview with the Archive of American Television, during a discussion with interviewer Karen Herman about the way his famous children’s show covered the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy. (Skip to 7:00 for the discussion of helpers.) At that point—after not addressing the deaths of JFK and MLK—Rogers felt he had to tell parents about the importance of including children in the ways they, as adults, dealt with their own grief.
In the 1980s, the show put forward similar messages about the assassination attempt against President Reagan and about the killing of John Lennon. “News programs are probably the most frightening programs for anybody,” he said, and called for the media to follow his advice for children:
…I think if news programs could make a conscious effort of showing rescue teams, of showing medical people, anybody who is coming into a place where there’s a tragedy, to be sure that they include that—because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.