The most ubiquitous Don't
The political climate is very caustic and negative these days and I've come to the conclusion that we're essentially a negative society. We're governed by negatives, in particular the word "Don't."
Why is that? Don't ask me! All I know is that don'ts are all over the place. Don't litter, don't loiter, don't walk on the grass, don't spit, don't talk, don't tailgate, don't cross on the red, don't use near an open flame and don't drink and drive . Then there's don't enter and don't exit. The don'ts got you coming and going.
It's been that way since the beginning of our country and I suspect it might be in our national DNA. The Pilgrims came here from England because people kept telling them, "Don't pray like that." And some anonymous Pilgrim got up and said, "Don't take that from them." So they left, and you can bet that when the Mayflower set sail relatives on the pier were yelling "Don't forget to write". and "Don't be a stranger."
Then, when the colonies were just little colonettes the first flag was negative -- "Don't tread on me," which was the inspiration for Elvis' hit single, "Don't Step On My Blue Suede Shoes."
Our soldiers at Lexington and Concord were told "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes," and in the War of 1812 sailors of the Chesapeake heard their wounded captain say "Don't give up the ship," which became the Navy's valiant motto. How our military went from that to "Don't ask, don't tell" is beyond me. Don't have a clue.
We live lives of don'ts. Don't cry over spilt milk, don't bite off more than you can chew, don't burn your bridges, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, don't count your chickens before they're hatched and, if hatching should occur in mid-count, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Applicants for jobs in almost every field hear "Don't call us, we'll call you," which contains the subtle suggestion that something positive might come from the negative.
A puzzler for me is Don't make waves. How come you never see that sign at the beach? Ingrained American decency has given us Don't kick a man when he's down. But I ask you -- when's a better time?
How about those smarmy people who wag their finger at you while saying, usually with a leer, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do." They have relatives who say things like "Don't take any wooden nickels." Hell, given the fluctuation in the market, I'll take any nickel I can get. But those same people will also tell you "Don't spend it all in one place." With gas prices being what they are I can't afford to get to the place to spend it.
You can't escape the don'ts. They start from the moment you're born with "Don't he look cute" to the minute you die -- "Don't he look nice." Like I said, they got you coming and going. And in between, as well, especially when you're a kid.
See, kids are positive creatures. They're always doing something. It's the parents' job to keep them from doing it with a vast repertoire of admonitions: Don't point, don't slouch, don't fight, don't talk back, don't bother me, don't hunch your shoulders, don't play in the street, don't pick at your food, don't pick on your sister, don't pick your nose -- God, don't EAT it! Other admonitions are just as negative: Don't eat peas with a knife, don't talk with food in your mouth, don't talk to strangers and don't talk to strangers with food in THEIR mouths.
There's also, Don't you have homework to do? and the classic Don't do what I do, do what I say. And when teenage boys are alone in the bathroom for a long time they hear, Don't do that or you'll go blind.
The accumulation of all these childhood don'ts contribute to making us negative citizens. And you don't escape them once into adulthood. There's Don't burn the candle at both ends, don't mix business with pleasure, don't tell me how to run my business, don't put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today, don't cut off your nose to spite your face, don't use near an open flame and Congress' favorite, Don't get caught ... (name the transgression.) Congress also likes "Don't give it a second thought."
Some don'ts have fallen out of favor. Remember when television hosts used to say "Don't touch that dial?" The remote control killed that one.
Romance is governed by don'ts, from your first pick-up line, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" to her disgusted reply, "Don't make me laugh." But being a guy who doesn't believe in "Don't take no for an answer" you persist and she accepts your dinner invitation. You walk her home and you hear, "I don't kiss on the first date." You ask why and she says it's because you slouch, hunch your shoulders, eat your peas with a knife and talk with food in your mouth. And in the back of your mind you hear your mother's voice saying "Don't say I didn't warn you."
If you persist she'll say "Don't you dare" or "Don't ever try that again." However, you might hit paydirt and hear "Don't stop." From then on it's clear sailing unless she's married and then "Don't get caught with your pants down," but if you are caught, the first thing you should say to her husband is "Don't jump to conclusions." But don't expect miracles.
If you start dating you'll hear "Don't they make a lovely couple!" Should you get married there'll be lots of "Don't forget to put out the garbage, "Don't go bowling again" and "Don't you love me anymore?" Be careful of the disguised negative in the apparent positive, "Do I look fat in this dress?" If you answer incorrectly you'll wind up in a bar spilling your guts to the bartender. That's when some gay guy might hit on you with a "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."
There's more. Don't worry about it, don't count on it, don't talk to the driver, don't take your eye off the ball, don't that beat all?, don't let it get you down, don't mention it, don't squeeze the Charman, don't feed the animals, don't be half safe, don't just stand there, don't bother to knock and the most contradictory negative of all, "Don't underestimate the power of positive thinking."
Happy Labor Day. Don't work too hard.