The Heart of the Matter
January 22, 2011
A Sign of the Times


I've been doing some fascinating research lately on the origins of common objects in our lives -- things we see daily, but often take for granted.

Like the Stop Sign, for example.

Most people think the Stop Sign was created to regulate traffic. Not true.

According to Dr. Ellison Burke of the Global Institute for Cross-Cultural Studies, the origin of the Stop Sign has nothing to do with traffic -- and dates back several thousand years.

Historical references to the Stop Sign have been noted in more than 27 civilizations, most notably Babylonia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Crete, Rome, and the Han Dynasty.


According to social scientists, each of these civilizations experienced one or more periods of rapid growth now referred to in the literature as "Societal Acceleration Syndrome" -- the way in which daily transactions speed up in proportion to a civilization's escalating Gross National Product.

In other words, speed has become one of the most statistically predicable indicators of a civilization's development and, as I will get to later in this posting, eventual decline.

My research doesn't end here, however.

In each of the above-mentioned civilizations, there have always been a small, but vocal, group of citizens who -- concerned about the quickening pace of daily life -- have warned about this phenomenon.


Indeed, a joint longitudinal study conducted by the American Archeological Institute and the Asian Society for World Growth, has revealed that this "small, but highly committed group of citizens" has made repeated efforts to diffuse their respective society's "escalating addiction to velocity."

In Sumeria, for example, a fringe group of philosophers and poets routinely posted "Styopsian" signs at strategic intersections throughout the country -- not to stop traffic, but to stop unnecessary "mind movement."

Their effort resonated with the citizenry and eventually led to the widespread appearance of what modern day sociologists now refer to as "stop signs" -- in urban centers, small villages, cattle crossings, universities, and even cornfields.

One of the most curious facts I've unearthed in my research is this: For the past 2,000 years, Stop Signs, regardless of the country of origin, have always been octogonal.

Apparently, each side of this iconic 8-sided, cross-cultural symbol of hoped-for stillness, has been imbued with a secret teaching of great import:

oak lawn stop sign.jpg

1. Slow down
2. Pay attention
3. Look around
4. Pause
5. Look within
6. Breathe deeply
7. Appreciate
8. Move consciously

And so... the next time you see a Stop Sign, you may want to remember that you are in the act of receiving a very ancient message -- one that preceded Starbucks, Twitter, YouTube, MTV, and email by thousands of years.

Next week... the YIELD SIGN.

ED NOTE: It has recently come to my attention that some readers of this blog have questioned my research methods and the veracity of my findings. A quick Google search of "Dr. Ellison Burke" and the "Global Institute for Cross-Cultural Studies," they claim, reveals not a single link. Frankly, I am baffled by their assertions and have assigned five of my brightest research assistants to get to the bottom of this immediately. In the meantime, you may want to contemplate the semi-ancient words of modern day social scientists, Simon and Garfunkel:

"Slow down, you're moving too fast. Ya gotta make the morning last..."

PS: Here's what helps me slow down, pay attention, look around, pause, look within, breathe deeply, appreciate, and move consciously.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 22, 2011 12:56 AM


Rock and Roll Mitch, as always. Perfect!

Posted by: Joyce [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 3, 2009 11:11 AM

Sheer genius :)

Posted by: Bernadette McDaniel [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 2, 2010 12:20 AM

Great post. Good advice for all behind the wheel also. Is hexagonal a typo.

Posted by: Hakim [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 4, 2011 09:37 PM

Great post Den. Courage and Insight as Always

Posted by: David Nomchong [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 23, 2011 07:45 AM

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Welcome to Mitch Ditkoff's blog about what's really important in this life: Peace, gratitude, love, joy, clarity, and the effort required to wake up and smell the roses. Enjoy!

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