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What message should go up in all Utah classrooms?

June 17, 2007

If you were the type to insist that one crucial message be posted in each and every Utah classroom, what would your message be?

For one Utahn the answer is “In God We Trust,” and he's already printed the posters.

I accidentally e-mailed the above question to 170 people the other day.  Here's what I know now:  That was dumb.

Now I’m left with an impossible task:  explaining one group of people to another, and vice versa.  The only certainty is that, sure as some are irked by the “self-appointed dictator” who “wants to tell everyone in Utah how to think,” others will be irked at me.

Not to imply there are only two sides to this thing.  For verily, there are many.

First, most reported they wouldn’t impose their message on every child and they wished the poster man wouldn't, either.  One suggested a blank poster for students to complete.  But then nearly all bought into the question’s premise, wrestling over their words and sending carefully crafted substitutes.

“Knowledge is power” was popular and, it seems to me, appropriate for any classroom.  “Question, grow, explore,” “Always question and consider,” “Question authority,” “Challenge authority,” and “Think for yourself,” resounded over and over.  Also, “Think before you leap,” “Read and think,” and my favorite in this category, “Listen, read, think and decide.”

Happily, some made me laugh:  “No matter what, you're going to end up in a cubicle,” “Don’t trust whitey,” “The school system does not care about your success in life,” “Here’s the phone number for Planned Parenthood,” “Who’s We?,” “‘Think for yourself’ --what could be more subversive in Utah?,” “If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss,” and, “You have no chance in life so give up.”

That last one came from a high school student who added, “I don’'t believe it, but that would be my message."  This is why high school students aren’t in charge of much.

Many mentioned the Earth:  “Love the Earth and everyone in it,” “The Earth is what we all have in common,” and my choice of these:  “Be kind.  To the Earth.  Each other.  Yourself.”

For two people, “In God We Trust” was just fine.  One of them received my question as a forward.  He mentioned a mission for “the church” and said something called “Alma 46:12” would also be appropriate for the classroom wall.  It might just be me, but the idea that a total stranger didn't mention which church he meant (if he’d said “a church,” that would be different) or what on earth “Alma” is, illuminates the problem with letting any one person choose everyone’s message.

It’s too simplistic to say we’re divided across religious lines.  Other Latter-day Saints responded with heartfelt messages about diversity, about respecting people regardless of sexual preference, and saying “In God We Trust” was inappropriate for the classroom, while some people who characterized themselves as “not even Christian” loved the Golden Rule.

That brings us to our winner:  That idea, expressed in a variety of ways, that we should treat other people as we would like to be treated.  It was pretty close to a landslide in favor of what Christians call the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

A number pointed out the sentiment resounds through all the world's major religions, not just Christianity, and is therefore likely to escape the imposed-by-Christians feel of “In God We Trust.”  Other nice ways to say it:  “Love one another,” “Be kind,” “Kindness is my religion,” “Be kind to each other, as well as yourself,” “Be kinder than necessary because everyone is fighting some kind of battle,” and, “Be kind to others for you don'’t know what burdens they carry.”

So today's message, Treat people the way you want to be treated.  Hang it on the wall if you want, but no pressure.

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BARB GUY writes a bi-weekly column for these pages.

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