Bargell: Subliminal sentiments
March 13, 2012
You’ve probably seen them around – nearby a church, or perhaps at a memorial site. According to Wiki one of the largest is located in Janesville, Wisconsin, a whopping 52 feet tall, at the site of a former KKK rally. I’ve seen them too, and when I come across one I typically pause for a moment to consider the words, and guess at the languages represented by the different translations.
The concept of a “peace pole” was introduced in the mid-1950s by a Japanese poet, Masahisa Goi, who wanted to spread the message of world peace after the bombings that ended World War II. Traditional peace poles have the saying “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in the language native to the locale down one side of the pole, with translations of the saying into different languages appearing on the adjacent sides. Today, it’s believed more than 200,000 peace poles have sprung up world-wide, written in more than 180 different languages. Spreading hope for peace is the message and the mission of the World Peace Prayer Society, and the poles simply are a reminder that peace is one concept that rings universal, no religious affiliation required.
Recently, the idea was adapted to add some color to the structural supports scattered throughout the Summit Middle School cafeteria. Instead of a prayer for world peace however, the (previously) bare, greenish poles now have simple cut-out lettering of several words of encouragement, each translated into Spanish and French. When students enter that prime school venue for socialization – the middle school cafeteria – they are greeted by the words Peace, Love, Friendship, Acceptance, Tolerance, Open-Mindedness and Equality.
Even in my dim recollection of the junior high lunchroom, I don’t recall it being a place of peaceful bliss. Sometimes considering where to sit, and with whom, with would give rise to adolescent angst and feelings of strife which, at the time, seemed global in scale. Even though I haven’t frequented a middle school cafeteria in nearly 40 years, my guess is not all that much has changed. So, the simple words that now pepper the room, reminding students to value their peers, and serve as handy location markers (“I’ll meet you over by Tolerance at noon”), might only be considered subliminally – but that’s better than not at all. For the teacher who poured herself into the project, her hope simply was if one student would look up and the word Acceptance or Equality would give them pause to reconsider an unkind word or action the poles had served their purpose. If they also happened to make a student rethink launching the peas that would precipitate a world class food fight, so much the better.
The words embellishing the poles made me think about some possibilities for home decoration. The word “Patience” emblazoned down the staircase, or perhaps circling the living room might remind me to count to 10 instead of raising my voice 10 decibel levels when my nerves are frayed. The small wall separating the sisters’ room would be a perfect place to stencil in the word “Kindness” with the corollary “This is a no hitting zone” notation. Above my desk I’d carve-out the word “Focus”, and in the kitchen the word “Adventure!” to remind me pizza is not a Friday night obligation.
When I asked our daughter the location of her lunch table, she told me she sits daily between Peace and Love. No telling what she might subliminally absorb lunching at this location for the next few years. But knowing that words often are the vehicle of choice used by kids to inflict pain, it’s good to know that equal time is being given to words that encourage – in multiple languages.
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Cindy Bargell lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She is a card-carrying PTSA member, real estate and natural resources lawyer and part-time gymnastics coach. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.