Op-ed column: Peace symbol fad offers chance to talk about what it means

Apparently, the peace symbol has become the latest fad in the clothing and accessory industries. Whe

Apparently, the peace symbol has become the latest fad in the clothing and accessory industries. And apparently I am way behind on what’s popular these days.

My 6-year-old daughter caught up to the craze this summer even before the school season began by jumping up and down ecstatically over a Silly Band in the form of the symbol.

Still, what has become an empty fad didn’t even occur to me until a few weeks after my daughter started school this year, when she asked me to paint her nails. As I took out her two favorite nail polish colors, pink and pearl, she suggested that I paint peace signs with the pearly white.

“On all your fingers, even your little pinkies”? I asked incredulously.

“No, just on these two,” she said, pointing with the longest finger on each side to show the other. Use the other color on the rest, she instructed.

“OK,” I said, hesitating for a split second, before obliging, all the while hoping that she would not want to proudly show off the nail decorations to her teacher with an emphatic flipping of two birds in the air at the same time.

Sometime later, she was drawing peace symbols as I read alongside her.

“Peace signs, peace signs, peace signs!” she cheered as she used all different colors to show them off. I put down the magazine I was skimming through and looked at her intently. “Why do you like peace signs so much?” I asked.

“Well, why shouldn’t I?” she replied, throwing the question back in my lap.

Probing question

I pressed. “Do you know what the peace sign means?” She shrugged. “They’re cool,” she said.

“How do you spell ‘peace?’ ” I then asked.

She didn’t take the bait. So, I let the subject slide, until I bought her some additional pants for school to make up for all the skirts she has refused to wear. Several pairs of pants did not fit, she complained. Of course, the pair with embroidered peace signs on the back pockets fit her perfectly, although they were a bit snug.

I took another opportunity to attempt to talk to her about the meaning of the sign, a symbol I was beginning to detest ever more by the minute.

“Do you know what peace means?” I asked.

“No,” she said matter-of-factly.

I defined the term in the simplest way I could. “It means trying to get along with people, without fighting, without wars. It means being nice to one another, even when you don’t feel like it,” was what I could clumsily spit out at the moment. Her eyes locked on to mine for a moment. Hey, maybe I’m finally getting somewhere, I thought.

Still, after all this difficulty in trying to engage my young daughter into a conversation about peace and seeing such signs everywhere that now seemed devoid of meaning, I swore I would never wear any piece of clothing, accessory, coat, hat, shoes, whatever, that bore this symbol.

Then, one morning as I was getting my daughter ready for school, she made an awful observation.

“Hey!,” she said with a note of glee in her voice. “You’re wearing a peace sign on your shirt!” I looked down at the front of my tie-dye T-shirt with the words “Saratoga est 1863” in white, arranged repetitiously in the form of a large, faded peace sign.

Fad trap

Well, what do you know, I chuckled to myself as I thought of where I bought the shirt, at a local shop last summer. I remembered thinking when I tried it on that the shirt was comfortable. And I liked the faded look of the peace sign.

I had to admit that even I had got caught up in the “fad trap.” I hear from various people that the sign is “promoting positive ideas.” Who can be sure that the average teenager or even adult buys such symbolic accessories with thoughts about what he or she could do to open up a dialogue about peace, whether it’s talking about how to end the bullying in our schools or how can we work together to make peace in Iraq and Afghanistan?

And yet, I’m realizing now that as parents, we could become the ones to blow some life back into a symbol that has been deflated out of its prominent meaning. My question up until recently has been: When should I start talking to my child about the concept of peace? That answer has been calling out to me ever since my daughter wanted her fingers painted with the magical sign. Now. At every opportunity. When your daughter wants her nails painted. When your child holds up a Silly Band in the form of the symbol. When you’re wearing a shirt with a peace sign on it.

Jodi Ackerman Frank lives in Saratoga Springs. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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