‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is all around us, on T-shirts, mugs, and posters. There are even variations like ‘Keep Calm and Eat Cake’.
‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ seems of huge appeal to our popular culture. There’s that ‘chin up, I’ll put the kettle on’ defiance and practical resilience and the idea that we’re good in a crisis. Like a sort of mini-Blitz spirit ‘you just get on with it don’t you’ that still works for us in our daily lives. But I’d like to ask, at what cost?
I do think there is a place for keeping rational and for getting on with people and things you need to get on with. But I think there might be something else going on with ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ under the surface, that we collectively buy into, that might not work so well for us.
‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was originally a World War Two poster campaign that never ran. It was designed to stop full blown panic in the face of a Nazi invasion. And it does have a sound of the early 1940’s and ‘Our Finest Hour’ about it. You can almost hear Captain Mainwaring saying it. It’s embedded now in our idea of being British but originally the phrase was to tell us that life must go on, even under the barrels of Nazi tanks parked at the tops of our streets.
I think the popularity of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ shows an ability to endure and at the same time, a culturally re-inforced fear of feeling.
It’s as if we’re frightened of our own feelings invading, parking themselves like Nazi tanks in our lives and never going away.
So I think underneath ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ might be another message. And that might be ‘Don’t Feel! Whatever you do, Don’t Feel!’
And if you do feel something, don’t do anything about it, just swallow your feelings back down and carry on with something that doesn’t feel right for you.
I think we fear feeling as we once feared a real Nazi invasion. And when we tell ourselves to keep calm and carry on with a situation that might require our attention, we’re oppressing ourselves inside, shutting down our true problem-solving abilities to help get our needs met.
‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ doesn’t really work. Not really, even though we tell ourselves we are ok, we can keep going. We know if something’s not right and we need to do something about it. And our feelings are part of that knowing.
‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ can make us feel even worse, that we should be able to carry on but there’s something wrong with us.
I think many of us get depressed, or block our feelings, cramming them back down our throats with drinking, eating or spending in ways we can’t sustain and aren’t good for us.
And even then ‘Keep Calm and Eat Cake’ or ‘Keep Calm and Drink Booze/ Take Drugs’ or ‘Keep Calm and Spend’ only works in the very short term.
You still wake up with you, a hangover, a bill or a burgeoning waistline. And the feelings are still there anyway because trying to outrun them is an endless marathon. Because wherever you go, your feelings come too. The more you try and pretend they’re not there or not a problem, the more they fight back, vying for your attention. So you have to spend even more time effort and money blocking them, so you can ‘keep calm and carry on’.
I think we fear our feelings as if they were invaders who are going to take us over and that’s it, all rational life gone, hello constant weeping and gut wrenching pain and fear.
Our feelings are not Nazi’s parking their tanks on our lawn, they are part of us, part of a way of understanding our own unique experience of the world. We don’t have to be frightened of them, or pretend they are not there, they might be telling us something we need to change about ourselves.
I think ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ can encourage an incuriousity towards our own experience and a fear of our own natural resources that we won’t be able to deal with change or difficulty face on, directly.
Being discouraged to feel our feelings is to ignore one of the greatest assets we have as human beings – our ability to adapt and problem solve. And we can only problem solve when we acknowlege we have a problem to solve.
Paul Murphy moreyoucounselling.co.uk