Symbols Can Change the World

pinkribbon1973. My high-school friend arrives home from school to an empty house. Since being told 2-weeks earlier she had breast cancer, his Mom had been silently making arrangements for surgery in another town. Neither disclosure nor discussion with family and friends, just shame and fear. Scroll forward 40 years – we’ve got races for the cure, pink shoes on NFL players, survivorship celebrations, a whole month of awareness during which time you better show up at work with a pink garment at least twice a week, or you don’t fit in. What helped the world change?

 

redribbon1983. I’m holding the hand of a terrified 24 year-old man dying of progressive respiratory failure, brought about by an immune deficiency syndrome we poorly understood. Other than me and the nurse, he’s dying alone. Neither disclosure nor discussion with family and friends, just shame and fear. Scroll forward 30 years – we’ve got celebrations, empathy, acceptance. Heck, we got Bono. What helped the world change?

 

couric2003. I’m writing a letter of condolence to the widow of my medical school friend, recently passed away from colorectal carcinoma, leaving behind a now single mom and young children. But I’ll get my screening colonoscopy next year, once I lose some weight (perhaps I’m embarrassed to be seen with only a hospital gown). Neither disclosure nor discussion with family and friends, just shame and fear. Scroll forward 10 years – we’ve got colon-prep-parties, a month to call our own, rising screening rates. What helped the world change?

 

nomore2013. Women are stalked, spouses battered and imprisoned, children scarred. Inadequate disclosure, inadequate discussion, just shame and fear. What can help change the world?

Throughout human history, we’ve used symbols to recognize, remember, and reform our world. Symbols can be particularly useful when addressing public health scourges. Linking the thousands of people, working in hundreds of non-profit organizations, who use many great programs to prevent and intervene in domestic violence and sexual assault, we now have this singular symbol. Wear it with pride. You might just change the world, one silently suffering person at a time.

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