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The “Subliminal Message” That Almost Ruined Me

The “Subliminal Message” That Almost Ruined Me

Yet It Was One of My Best Messages Ever

Writing a column to fill space in the high school newspaper seemed simple enough, until I added a secret message that spread like wildfire through the student body.

It all started when the editor asked me to write about senior life as we prepared to graduate. Nothing big, right? But for years, I tried to write colorful stories people would actually read.

I didn’t want to let my readers down with anything boring, so I had to spice up the column. I needed a zinger.

I found one, which eventually got me kicked off the newspaper. It almost stopped me from graduating too, all for some words just like the ones you’re reading. Well, there was something about these words…

I Later Discovered Subliminal Messages Really Work

The idea behind subliminal messages is that information can be passed through our subconscious mind, affecting our thoughts without our conscious mind knowing.

How do I know subliminal messages work? Because I frequently see it in action. While writing, I’ll suddenly choose words that happen to be in my peripheral vision, like a flyer in a cafe or words in another window on my computer screen.

For example, let’s say I’m writing an article, and there’s a book near me lying face down with the description on the back cover showing.

If the word “superfood” was written on the back of that book, the chances of me using the word superfood in my writing jump, even though I didn’t consciously read the back of the book! All it took was having the word “superfood” visible in my peripheral vision.

I’ve seen it happen time after time. I’ll write a word, and suddenly realize that I did so because my subconscious mind saw the word somewhere nearby. My theory is that this makes redundancy a common issue in writing.

From these experiences, I know this kind of subliminal “input” works. Other ways people have attempted subliminal messages is by flashing words or images within a film that’s too fast for the conscious mind to see, but the subconscious might pick it up.

A Nevada judge in 1989 ruled that “subliminal messages aren’t protected by the First Amendment” but also that “no one had proven that subliminal messages could actually move someone to act against his will.”

But my “subliminal message” had nothing to do with peripheral vision or flashing images, it was a different sort of “secret” message. In fact, I argue it wasn’t really subliminal at all.

You see, it wasn’t the words themselves that conveyed my message, it was the first letters of a phrase…

Try To Spot the Message…

Here’s the message that got me kicked off the paper… First see if you notice it:

“Forget Understanding, Chaos Kills. It’s Time.”

If you don’t already see the message, here’s the answer:

Take the first letter of each word to find the message (the period divides the two words).

The Moment I Supposedly Engaged in “Mind Control”

I still remember when the “subliminal” phrase came to me. I was sitting on my bed upstairs at my childhood home. Being in a family of eight made that one of the few places I could find quiet growing up.

It was just a matter of finding the right words to spell out the secret message.

The phrase came to me more easily than I thought, maybe too easily … like it was channeled from some astral realm (okay kind of kidding here).

I laughed as I wrote it, planning to only tell one buddy about the message. The thing is, that friend also happened to be the editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

But he’s not the one who spilled the tea to a teacher…

The Moment I Was Busted

I’m sitting in class, Friday morning and the school newspaper is being passed around. I open up a copy and chuckle at my little message. I don’t tell anyone.

Then, around second or third hour, a security guard comes in the class to escort me to the principal’s office. There’s the usual giggling as I get up to leave with a smirk. I have a no idea what I’m in trouble for.

I get to the principal’s office and it’s not just him greeting me, but a guidance counselor, my English teacher, a psychology teacher and for some reason the athletic director?

They all sit around me with serious faces, except the English teacher who is smiling. I’m pretty sure he wishes he had some popcorn for the show.

They grill me and I somehow remain calm, not a bead of sweat.

I later found out a student told the psychology teacher about the secret message. I have no idea how that student knew, it didn’t matter. Frankly, I didn’t give a damn. It was my doing.

Apparently, the psychology teacher took the discovery to top command. During the inquiry, I think someone dropped the phrase, “mind control” and/or “brainwashing.”

It was implied, at least I think, that I may have somehow embedded profanity into the subconscious minds of every student in the school.

My first thought was, does everybody actually read this rag?

I tried to play it off, even suggesting the quote may have come from a Bob Dylan song. My English teacher, a baby boomer (and still smiling), said he never heard that lyric before, and that he was familiar with Dylan’s music.


So I gave up that line.

I was kicked off the school newspaper, and assigned to in-school suspension for a while. There was even talk that I’d be flunking the publications class which meant I wouldn’t have enough credits to graduate.

So, I thought, there goes my entire future for writing a silly secret message to a friend.

Luckily, the editor and some of the other students in the class banded together to plead my case, pointing out how many stories I wrote for the paper. Somehow, the powers-that-be listened, and I was given a D instead of an F.

I could graduate.

Here’s the Actual Column (the “torn” look is intentional)

Note I had been writing comedic Top-10 Lists (in the spirit of Letterman), thus the reference.

What About The Message Itself?

Toward the end, I congratulated those who didn’t feel burned out, the gifted kids who will go to college or trade schools or real jobs with utter certainty.

But this column was for those of us who were a bit broken, who had attention deficits, who maybe felt challenged at times. The intention was comic relief.

By the way, the column had other innuendos I thought would cause more of a stir than the final quote. Here’s some of them:

“morning after” = term for the morning after drinking alcohol
“10 cent Tuesday” = reference to a bar that offered low-cost beer on Tuesdays
“first buds of Spring” = pot reference
“you should not feel so all alone” = lyrics of a Dylan song just before the line, Everybody must get stoned.

But none of that mattered, it was the secret message that landed me in hot water.

By the way, I think I put the message in quotes in case it was discovered. I figured I could say I quoted someone else. Unfortunately, that tactic played out and didn’t work.

However, I do find the “subliminal” accusation silly, because there’s no way the subconscious mind is going to grab the first letters of words to create meaning. Can you imagine how much a meaning we’d constantly find? What about the last letter of each word? I think not…

Would I do it again? Well, it was one of the best self-help phrases ever. Joking aside, the message is valid and has helped me many times.

Think about it, when we’re thrown into this world, how much must we overcome just to live? Even beyond basic survival, how many expectations, ego trips and soul-numbing obligations must we confront daily?

Sometimes there’s only one healthy response…

“Forget Understanding, Chaos Kills. It’s Time.