Don’t stop yourself from reading this post. Don’t hold yourself back from writing a comment or sharing this article with friends. Pick up quotes but don’t forget to give credit to the writer. There is a ‘don’t’ populating each of these sentences and yet the word has a comforting purr surrounding it.

Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!

One of the most trolled word in the world is ‘don’t’. Or ‘Do Not’, if ‘don’t’ makes you feel uneasy. I am not surprised at all because all around one sees ‘don’t’ holding a hunter in its hands and glaring down from billboards or staring unblinking at you from a pamphlet, booklet, or even a spineless newspaper insert. There are hundreds of adverts that begin or end or just fill whatever space they get with a message that chants ‘don’t’. Traffic police hands out ‘don’t’, teachers drone ‘don’t’, parents prefix and suffix ‘don’t’ to every word, society injects ‘don’t’, rules and regulations feel lonesome without ‘don’t’, instructions are packed with ‘don’t’, travel pamphlets promote ‘don’t’, and even restaurants serve ‘don’t’ before the waiter fetches you a glass of water.

Any normal day probably feels weakened without its daily dose of ‘don’t walk fast’, ‘don’t speak loudly’, ‘don’t go around aimlessly’, ‘don’t eat so fast’, ‘don’t bathe for so long’, ‘walk and don’t run’, ‘speak and don’t shout’, ‘work and don’t laze’, ‘read and don’t skim’, and to make matters worse there are words like why, how, and when that often enlist ‘don’t’ for their own brand of shelling. Why don’t you follow my instructions? How did you forget to notice ‘don’t’ written in bold? When will you learn that ‘don’t’ isn’t the same as do?

It isn’t others asking you questions or bombarding instructions with ‘don’t’ loaded to the brim that fills time and space of an ordinary mortal. The others too have the option to carry with them a massive bazooka that fires ‘don’t’ non-stop. Don’t talk to me like I was a nincompoop, will you? Don’t forget that I taught you how to drive. Don’t think I cannot cook my own food. Don’t assume that I can’t draw.

The truth is that the world loves to ‘don’t’ so much that even countries send each other diplomatic corps memos that ‘don’t you dare’ or ‘why don’t you shut-up’ fairly frequently. Scan any newspaper headlines and you’ll know why India ‘donts’ China or the ways in which Pakistan ‘donts’ India. The EU ‘donts’ UK and the US ‘donts’ the environment groups.

We live in a world where almost everyone is busy saying ‘don’t’ but the way I look at things is that this isn’t really the best way to go about proliferating one’s views. This word is actually a big turn-down… or is it that the word tickles the instinctive ‘lets go ahead do it NOW’ kind of response? Talkatora Garden has a few placards asking people not to play on the grass and there are invariably small and large groups of people playing football or cricket right there.

Do or don’t – decide!

If the battle is between ‘do’ and ‘don’t’, it is the latter that shouts out loud and clear: Do it!

This makes me wonder if the authorities need to alter those short captions that use ‘don’t’ and if turning them into yet shorter ones with ‘do’ might actually get the kind of behaviour that they are looking for. For instance, what if a warning sign says: ‘Cross the stop line and pay a fine!’ or ‘Step on the grass and breathe less oxygen’ or ‘Skip enough classes and spend another year at college’ or ‘Keep refusing assignments and let others get promoted’ or ‘Doze away merrily and let an inspired thought pass by’… there now, I guess I have covered traffic violators, errant students, office staff, and even writers in this short list. Think and you’ll be able to create positive warnings (warnings, really?) for every moment. Mothers can ask their children to ‘leave a toothbrush alone and let the dentist pull a tooth’ or ‘put your things anywhere in the house and reach school late’.

I recently read a report about some study a daycare centre assumed that a token fine for parents who picked up their child late would work wonders. This, in fact, ended up with more and more parents willing to pay fines. I believe this centre could have got a better result had it thought of something like ‘pick you child on time and get more quality time with him or her’.

An art gallery that I visited a few months back had sheets of paper fixed on their walls with captions that asked patrons to feel free to pick up a marker and draw or doodle on them because seeing art awakens the slumbering artist within. They knew they would be saving their walls. I remember visiting some place in Seoul where they actually sold nicely cut and painted bits of magnetic metal on which one could write a message for a loved one and put it up on a large metal sheet on the wall. The wall obviously had hundreds of ‘x loves y’ messages all over and the walls were saved

Do it – is far better than ‘don’t do this’… and I fervently hope President Trump doesn’t read this article or he will certainly have badges with captions that say: ‘Go ahead and elect Biden and get an America that is slammed to pieces!’ NO, I don’t have any favourites for the US elections and I have used this example simply to illustrate my view. Lets just do it right.




It is time to get rid of DON'T
It is time to get rid of DON’T




Arvind Passey
19 October 2020