Walk through my office door and it’s pretty much the first thing you’re confronted with. Hanging against the wall behind my desk, in a simple black frame, is a poster with five little words on it. A motto to live by:
Keep calm and carry on
More than just being sensible words to live by, though, this poster is an icon for insatiable curiosity and viewing the world with wonder. It represents the power of story in our lives. Not quite convinced? Allow me to persuade you.
I have always liked the Keep Calm and Carry On posters. The simple design and the sensible, dry irony behind the injunction to keep calm appealed to me immediately. So I bought one and hung it up on my office wall, assuming that, like so much in our lives, the poster was the brainchild of some corporate advertising genius. Just do it, Eat Fresh, Have a break, Have a Kit Kat. Keep calm and carry on.
Then one day I was looking at the poster and I thought, wait a minute – what exactly are you selling with a slogan like “Keep calm and carry on”? I looked into it and found, to my surprise, that the answer is exactly that – you’re selling keeping calm and carrying on.
The poster was designed in 1939 by the British government as one in a range of propaganda posters intended to boost public morale. Even though about two million of them were printed, though, the posters were never distributed and therefore never seen by the British public.
“Keep calm and carry on” only became the phenomenon it currently is in 2000, when the owner of a second-hand bookstore in Northumberland discovered one in an old box and put it up in his store. Soon they were selling copies and the rest, as they say, is history.
I love how discovering these everyday little facts can make life so much richer. I look at my poster now and I wonder about the stories of those it was intended for originally. Perhaps a scared mother huddling in a bomb shelter with two young children. People who needed to hear that, whatever happens, you just keep calm and keep on living your life. I love how humanity is so connected in that simple need, and how even I, in 2014, need to look at a poster to remind myself sometimes to just carry on. I like thinking about the story behind this poster and how it lay, forgotten, for 50 years before being rediscovered, and I wonder if anything I do will be either remembered or rediscovered 50 years from now. I’m reminded, every time I look at it, to be curious about the things I see around me and to go and search for the deeper stories behind them.
Sitting behind my desk as the workload piles up, I look at the poster on the wall, and remember that I am just a tiny little piece in a very large puzzle of humanity. I take a deep breath. I keep calm. I carry on.
Watch a short video on the Story of Keep Calm and Carry On below: