Denmark…won’t you be my neighbor?

Last weekend I saw Morgan Neville’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, an intimate portrait of the passionate life and work of Mr. Rogers. To say there were a few tears in the audience would be an understatement. A.O. Scott’s review in the New York Times accurately describes the film’s “curious melancholy”. He writes:

“What Mister Rogers tried to teach us — how to navigate “some of the more difficult modulations” in everyday life — might now be classified as emotional literacy. He acknowledged that anger, fear and other kinds of hurt are part of the human repertoire and that children need to learn to speak honestly about those feelings, and to trust the people they share them with.”

Emotional literacy and the demonstration of other SEL skills is what our global community needs right now. My own nostalgia for Mr. Rogers and that feeling of “curious melancholy” stems from our shift away from navigating through difficult “modulations”, and a dangerous draw to other “isms”, alienation, fearmongering and ethno-nationalism.

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Copyright PBS.

Most recently, Denmark’s passage of a new set laws which force immigrants living in low-income neighborhoods to assimilate illustrate how fearful, angry and desperate Western countries have become to control their cultural narratives and histories. If immigrants do not comply with the law, which requires them to spend time away from their children and receive mandatory instruction in “Danish values”, they can lose social benefits and even receive prison time.

Denmark is a good example of a society acting from a place of fear, rather than a place of empathy, understanding and sincerity. How can immigrants integrate when they are physically and socially alienated? How can immigrants integrate if there is little to no exchange of cultural values, perspective-taking or communication between communities? The Danish government and parts of the society believe that immigrants are incapable of integrating, and maybe that’s by design. Sarah Schulman’s book “Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair” is an exciting text to pull from which provides a useful framework to explain some of these dynamics. Look forward to writing about this in an upcoming post and how it has influenced the underpinnings of the Nairobi Play model around global citizenship and intercultural competence.