In 1939, when it looked as if Great Britain was going to be invaded or bombed by Nazi Germany, a public relations campaign was pondered. Millions of large posters reading “Keep Calm and Carry On” were printed, but never used. The phrase originated as a slogan in the spring before World War II. Anticipating the dark days ahead, the British government designed a poster to hang in areas being targeted by German bombers.
Officials had last-minute doubts about whether the content was too patronizing or obvious. They also couldn’t settle on an appropriate time to hang the posters. Save for a select few, the majority of the posters were destroyed.
In 2000, one of the remaining posters was discovered by a bookseller who bought a box of old books (where the poster was hidden) at auction. It was put up over the cash register in the seller’s bookshop, Northumberland’s Barter Books.
A craze was created and reproductions of the poster were printed and the image and phrase have been used to promote all sorts of pop culture subjects.
Author Fraser McAlpine, in his book “Stuff Brits Like” explains the meaning of the two parts of the phrase.
“There is something quintessential in the way the posters do not say ‘Don’t Panic’ or ‘We Will Prevail’ ... They say ‘Keep Calm,’ and what that means is, ‘We may be suffering something of an invasion at the moment, but that’s no reason to start acting in a rash and hot-headed manner. We may be a subjugated nation — temporarily — but we are not about to start acting like savages.’
“And what of the ‘Carry On?’ ... As a nation, we have been trained to look past the bad behavior of our rudest guests, especially the uninvited ones, and rather than cause a scene, we shall just go about our daily business as if nothing has happened.”
I was thinking about “Keep Calm and Carry On” lately as I, like many of you, have returned to in person dining and shopping. While many of us are more than ready to be out and about, businesses are struggling to take care of customers.
There are many reasons for things taking longer now as we gear up to return to 2019 levels. As employment rates return to pre COVID levels, we need to remember that there was a shortage of workers then and it will be only worse now. Baby Boomers are aging out of the workplace and there simply aren’t enough people to take the jobs.
You can argue about whether the jobs pay enough, whether we need more immigrants or if higher unemployment and stimulus monies are keeping people out of the workforce, but the bottom line is there aren’t enough people for jobs. Business owners looking to recoup losses from the last year are doing their best to get by with leaner staffs as well.
Back to “Keep Calm and Carry On” — I think we need to heed that advice and do our best to be patient and kind to each other as we figure things out and an equilibrium establishes itself. Most people are doing their best. Let’s help them by being civil to one another.
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