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The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On… Because Being Calm is Contagious

Irrational Beliefs that Lead to Self-Defeat

The world has been shook by COVID-19, Black Lives Matter movements, politics and more. Because of social media and polarizing news outlets, Americans appear to be at war with each other at times. It seems that a combination of fear and misinformation can often cause people to become irrational and when people are irrational they often find themselves on the drama triangle, debating their neighbors online, and acting out in public spaces. The drama triangle is where you are either a victim, a villain, or a hero. The problem with falling into this triangle is that it is often destructive to be in any of these roles. (We discuss the Drama Triangle in this post.)

According to American Psychologist Albert Ellis, “who is considered the grandfather of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), identified three basic irrational beliefs that lead to self-defeat:

  • “I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good.”
  • “Other people must treat me considerately and fairly, or else they are not good and deserve to be condemned and punished.”
  • “I must get what I want, when I want it. If I don’t get what I want, it’s terrible and intolerable.” (

I find it notable how these three basic irrational beliefs, especially the second two, are very common today. I can only imagine the mental state of people during World War II where information was probably passed along from word of mouth and like a game of telephone rumors and misinformation went viral. The idea of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster is quite ingenious. Placing this mantra in front of millions might actually help them to “Keep Calm and Carry On” instead of spiraling into irrational behavior.

Creating Calm in the Classroom

As an educational company, iteach is directly connected to teachers who are clearly some of the individuals impacted most by the ever-changing environment caused by COVID-19. We hear stories of stressed-out teachers daily, but we also continue to hear stories of resilience where teachers continue to pull through for their students. Because of these conversations I was reminded of the posters that were issued during World War II that stated “Keep Calm and Carry On”. For some reason this phrase seems to resonate with individuals. If you were to create a poster today that would inspire individuals to come together, what would it say? (This would be a great class project to see what your students would come up with.)

The History of Keep Calm and Carry On

“Keep Calm and Carry On”, is a delightful little phrase that became popular because of a poster created by the Ministry of Defence during World War II. If you aren’t familiar with the history of the poster, you might not know that there were actually 2.45 million posters created but never distributed. That is a seriously large number of posters. (If you had 10,000 people distributing these posters it would be 245 posters per person!) And there were also three other posters created according the University of London’s website:

“It was one of a series of three posters that would be issued in the event of war (the others read ‘Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution; Will Bring Us Victory’ and ‘Freedom is in Peril; Defend it with all Your Might’). The ‘Keep Calm’ design was never officially issued and only a very small number of originals have survived to the present day.

2.45 million posters displaying it were printed, only to be pulped and recycled in 1940 to help the British government deal with a serious paper shortage.

It wasn’t until a copy was discovered in a bookshop in Northumberland in 2000, and reproductions of it began to be sold a year later, that its fame was established.” (University of London)

Were Political Propaganda Posters the first “Social Media Campaigns”?

What is interesting about these posters is the sheer number of them that were printed and their intended purpose. Before the days of social media people received their news through the radio, newspapers and of course posters. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the US hired artists to create posters to support the war efforts. According to an article on

To preserve resources for the war effort, posters championed carpooling to save on gas, warned against wasting food and urged people to collect scrap metal to recycle into military materials. In the spring of 1942, rationing programs were implemented that set limits on everyday purchases.

While many posters touted positive patriotic messages, some tapped fear to rally support for the Allied side and caution against leaking information to spies. “Loose lips sink ships” became a famous saying. Meanwhile, graphic images depicted a blood-thirsty Adolph Hitler and racist imagery of Japanese people with sinister, exaggerated features.

Today, the posters a offer a glimpse into the nation’s climate during World War II and how propaganda was used to link the home front to the front lines. (

The Power of Words

I think it is interesting at how powerful words and imagery can be. I still hear people say, “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and I never really gave it much thought. I actually had no idea that it came from a World War II campaign that encouraged people to keep quiet because of spies.

Let’s Focus on the Good

I find the history of World War II and the use of posters to connect people to a cause, to inform, and to motivate – extremely fascinating. It makes me wonder if we could do the same thing in our world today by creating messages that incite calm instead of fear? That bring unity instead of division? The cultivate compassion, not hate?

There is so much good in this world. I read stories daily about the extreme kindness of strangers and the selflessness of others. For every story that we hear of cruelty, there are probably a 1000 others of kindness that we never hear about. So I’d like to start a trend where everyone shares more stories of kindness and less stories about “Karen’s” or other tragic news. And if we don’t agree with someone, we don’t take it as a personal threat to our existence – even when we believe otherwise.

If I were to create a poster it would say, “Be Kind, Be Patient, and Love One Another.” And I would hope that people would pause for a moment and take it to heart. So again I ask, what would your poster say? I encourage you to create it and post it on your social media and of course in the meantime, Keep Calm and Carry On.

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