Recently I caught an episode of Bob Ross painting his happy little trees for the first time since he was on PBS and I was holding the television antenna up in my grandparents’ kitchen. I was in the company of an eight year old, who was at first enchanted, then a tiny bit bored with Bob, but I let that pass. We have grown up, as people and as a culture, since Bob first started painting, and are much more fast paced and rock ’em sock ’em than we were back then. After gently reminding my little friend that not everything has to be explosions and superheroes, we watched Bob paint a landscape, as he was wont to do, and my wee pal explained how she needed ALL Bob’s painting supplies so she could paint like he did. It was a lovely little experience. Just Bob, my little friend, and me.
It got me thinking about Bob Ross, and people like him, people who spoke softly and showed us the mystery and magic in everyday things. I thought immediately of Fred Rogers, who unlike Bob, was not a skilled artist, but who, exactly like Bob, believed there were no mistakes, just happy accidents, and told us as children just that. Mister Rogers loved us, and told us so, just as Bob Ross called us his friends at the end of his own shows. They wanted us to feel special, and happy, and it was as simple as that. Mister Rogers showed us we were perfect just the way we were, and Bob Ross showed us that even a mis-stroke of the paintbrush could transform into a happy little tree if we looked at it the right way. Mister Rogers and Bob Ross were the embodiment of gentleness, and it was that word that I reflected on as my eight year old friend and I watched Bob and his brushes create something that wasn’t there before.
Gentleness, especially in this age, is rare and precious. Children are exposed to so much, and we as adults are exposed to even more horrors. We need gentleness in our lives. We need Picture Picture to show us how crayons are made, and we need happy little trees. But where are we to find them now? Kids in 2016 don’t have the gentle icons we did, and even when we as parents, family and friends do our best to instill gentleness in our beloved tiny humans, we could always need a little help from our friends. And that is where Netflix comes in.
Yup, Netflix. That paragon of entertainment has both Bob Ross’s shows, and also 20 episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for viewing (now on and offline, yay Netflix!) and we are luckier for it. They even have the episode of Mister Rogers where they go to the crayon factory. You remember that, I know you do. And of course I do too.
Now I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to pry our youngins away from today’s high voltage entertainment to watch Mister Rogers or Bob Ross. But give it a shot. You might find that the gentleness of these late, great men and the messages they sent to us so many years ago are more than welcome in 2016. Of course *we* love the old shows, but don’t count the kids out of this. You might be surprised how powerful gentleness can be.