A terrarium is set into a wall between the entryway and a reading room at Tabor College Library.
A prominent sign warns, “Do Not Tap on the Glass.” Every time I see it, I am assailed by a nearly irresistible urge to (you guessed it!) tap on the glass. Am I a dyed-in-the-wool, incorrigible rebel, or does everyone react this way?
I have never made an effort to check out this question scientifically (or even unscientifically). However, I have a feeling that if someone hid nearby and kept a tally, he would find that about seven out of 10 people passing a “Wet Paint” sign would touch it to make sure. I do not feel very guilty about my rebellious urges, because I think they are typical of human nature.
All right, ’fess up! When you visit a museum or exhibit, don’t you want to handle every item that says, “Do Not Touch”?
When parents anticipate something embarrassing their children may do, they might be better off just to hide the fear in their brains somewhere and hope against hope the children do not think of it. If you warn them ahead of time, you risk activating the old “Wet Paint” syndrome.
There is a family legend about my father as a toddler. Grandfather’s sister was coming to visit. Aunt Lana was a devout member of the Church of the Brethren, who in those days dressed all in black. I think it was from my father that I inherited my regrettable tendency to blurt out whatever pops into my head. Grandma explained to him gently.
“Aunt Lana will be dressed in black. This is part of her religion, and I don’t want you to say anything about it.”
With that off her mind, she anticipated her sister-in-law’s visit with pleasure. When the aunt arrived, Dad tagged along when she went to lay her coat and bonnet. When she placed her coal-black bonnet on Grandmother’s snowy white counterpane, he said, “Aunt Lana, your bonnet is REALLY black, isn’t it?”
Of course, there are no guarantees either way. Jean Kerr’s children did not do anything their mother asked them not to, but she got a book title out of her statement, “I forgot to tell them ‘Please don’t eat the daisies.’”
That shows another reason giving instructions to people about what they should not do does not always work. It is impossible to think of all the crazy things they might think of doing. When I was 8 or 10 years old, I was sick and bored in a bed in the attic of our house.
Mom gave me everything she thought I would need and she went downstairs to get some work done. I picked-up one of her side combs, which was lying by the bed and begin to roll some stray locks of hair in it. That was easy enough, but unrolling it was not going to happen. I had two reasons for not wanting to call Mom. 1) She had arthritis and climbing the stairs was hard for her, and 2) I was pretty sure she would be mad. Finally, I grabbed the comb and tore the hair out by the roots.
If any kids out there ever contemplate doing this, I warn you, the hair does not grow back. The only reason you cannot see a half-inch notch in my hairline today is that the rest of my hairline has receded to match it.
Unfortunately, I think being told not to do something raises a spirit of rebellion in most of us. Is it possible that if God had never mentioned the tree in the midst of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would not have thought about eating from it?