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2004: A Time to Look for Heroes

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2004: A time to look for heroes
By Congressman Joseph R. Pitts

January is a good time to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. 2003 was a time of great turmoil and time of great heroism, of great joy and unspeakable sadness.

During the holiday season, I was reminded of the bravery of our men and women in uniform who fight to give us freedom and defend it. Many of those heroes died in that cause last year, some of them from our area.
But heroes aren't just made on the battlefield. During 2003, Pennsylvania lost one of those great heroes - Fred Rogers. Known to most children as "Mister Rogers," his television program taught a generation of kids what it meant to love their neighbor and demonstrate compassion to those in need.

On March 4, 2003, the House unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Pittsburgh-area Congressman Mike Doyle. The resolution honored the life and legacy of Mr. Rogers "for his legendary service to the improvement of the lives of children, his steadfast commitment to demonstrating the power of compassion and his dedication to spreading kindness through example."

Six years ago this week, Hollywood honored Fred Rogers when he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The honor was greatly deserved. Fred Rogers devoted his life to communicating and exemplifying the ideals of a culture that values compassion, service to one's neighbor, and kindness.

Sadly, children grow up today with far too few Mister Rogerses in their lives. The show with a knack for teaching kids profound lessons in the proper way to treat others has been replaced with programming devoid of these good lessons, and sometimes even programs that reinforce the negative lessons children pick up at school, home, and from other kids or television programs.

Worse, our children are growing up with fewer role models to whom they can look for guidance and leadership, people willing to live in such a way that they encourage kids to "demonstrate the power of compassion and their dedication to spreading kindness through example."

There are plenty of public figures out there, some good and many bad. The media gives us instant updates on the happenings in the lives of hundreds of these celebrities. Media outlets garner record-setting sales and ratings the more scandalous the story they report on these celebrities.

Odd as it may seem, these celebrities benefit greatly from the attention. Unfortunately, but they are often unwilling to understand the impact their behavior has on children.

This was best exemplified when basketball great Charles Barkley made headlines a few years back when he said, "I'm not a role model." Or when Marilyn Manson denied that his music played any role in the violent behavior of some of his fans.

They couldn't be more wrong. Like it or not, as successful, visible people in our society celebrities are role models by virtue of the attention they receive. And our culture latches onto their exploits, especially when they are sensational or scandalous.

While glorifying the athlete's criminal trial, the actress' affairs, the CEO's fuzzy accounting, and the politician's corrupt ways, our culture does not offer children enough positive alternatives. They are left with celebrities to admire for their good looks or popularity, but not heroes to emulate for the principles by which they live.

My hope is that in 2004, we will see more heroes emerge on the television screen, in magazines, in playing fields, and in the halls of government, heroes that our children and grandchildren can emulate.

Mister Rogers was indeed a hero to emulate. Others like him are out there. All we have to do is learn where to look for them.

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