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Column: Imagine World Peace, But Spare Me Inspirational Messages

There are inspirational posters in my doctor’s waiting room. One announces to those with aching bunions, open lesions or incipient Meniere’s disease, “Seeing what others don’t is another kind of vision.”

I’m not convinced. I sit there thinking, “If you’re seeing what others don’t, what you are having are not visions. What you are having are hallucinations. While you’re here, why not ask your physician for a thorough check-up?”

Call me impervious (I’ve been called worse by words containing fewer syllables) but few deliberately inspirational pronouncements have left me enchanted. Few bumper stickers have changed my life, for example, not even ones telling me their vehicles have climbed Mount Washington, contain fifth-grade honors students or advise against knocking if the vehicle is rocking.

Don’t you find these last ones disturb rather than inspire? They should be used to prevent teen pregnancy; they’d be more effective than handing out condoms. Just smack a “Don’t Start Knockin’” bumper sticker on the back ends of cool cars in school parking lots. They are the anti-love drug. You can’t imagine the Cialis campaign is going to start with “When this bathtub is a-rockin’ ...” can you? Exactly.

Never has the reading of a T-shirt altered my philosophical perspective, political affiliation or deeply held religious convictions, either. I’d be creeped out even to sit next to somebody on a bus whose consciousness was changed by glancing at an article of clothing worn by a random passerby. I don’t even want to share an elbow rest with somebody like that.

Can you imagine taking seriously the kind of individual who starts a conversation with “Yeah, until this skinny tattooed dude wearing a muscle shirt with the words ‘Ron Paul Is My Homeboy’ walked passed me, I wasn’t sure how to gauge my own partisan proclivities?” I will admit, however, that I might listen more closely to that person’s arguments if he or she were wearing a higher-thread-count garment.

Sure, as a teenager and college student I wore message T-shirts. But after a certain point, I realized I wanted guys to stop reading my bust line in order to understand where I stood on major issues confronting our culture. Let’s just say that I don’t think it was women who decided it was a good idea to start putting small print on tight V-necks.

As we aged, many of my friends have switched from clothing to bumper stickers as our preferred inspirational media. Bumper stickers aren’t always easy, either. One of my closest friends has an ex-military brother who is deeply conservative while she, in contrast, is liberal and active in progressive causes. Despite ideological differences, they love one another dearly and make a point of making the long drive to visit one another several times a year. Conversations about any potentially volatile subjects are dutifully and contentiously avoided.

Sounds good, right? Except for the fact that these siblings both plaster their cars with stickers from respective causes. Her Prius proclaims “Republicans: Helping The Rich Profit From The Suffering Of Others,” “Tea Parties Are For Little Girls With Imaginary Friends” and “Dear Lord, Please Save Me From Your Followers.” His car counters “If Guns Kill People, Then Spoons Make Michael Moore Fat,” “In Case of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned” and “I’ll Keep My Freedom, My Guns and My Money. You Keep The Change.”

All she can make him do when he visits her in her small New England village is to back his Mustang into her driveway so that the overwhelming majority of his political and religious rhetoric faces away from the street.

But when she drives south to visit him, what he does is camouflage her car. He doesn’t call it that, of course. But he makes her park so far into his hedge you can barely see the car’s outline. The government couldn’t find it even if they were looking — which they’re not, as far as we know — because this is what her brother did as a day job when he was in the armed forces.

They both feel a need to air their viewpoints, but at the same time they also display respect and affection for those they love. Forget posters and T-shirts: That’s inspiring.

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.