Thursday, August 18, 2011

The power of "No."

"No" is an interesting concept to me. As children, we were constantly told "no" by our caregivers, whether it's a sudden, shouted "NO!" (usually in the case of danger or irritation) or a gentle, drawn out "nnnoooo..." (usually used with redirection). Naturally, "no" becomes one of a kid's favorite words to repeat over and over until all the adults around him or her feel the urge to repeatedly slam their own heads against whatever solid object is closest. Or jam q-tips into their ears well past the point of resistance to keep from ever having to hear that word again.

But somewhere along the way we are taught that "no" is a word that we should not use, or else people will perceive us as mean, or rude, or selfish. If we do use "no," it's the gentle, drawn out version, usually paired with a grimace, a shrug, an apology, an excuse, or all of the above at the same time. And if there's an excuse, it may or may not be the honest reason.

For example, someone stops by your house unexpectedly. You might say, "Nnnoooooo, I really can't sit and chat with you today... I'm on my way out the door right now. I'm sorry! Maybe some other time!"

And maybe that is an honest reason, and not one that's honest only because you suddenly decided to leave your home rather than face a minute of the company they've forced on you without fucking calling first. The honest reason may be completely different, and may be totally innocent or not so sweet. It could be that you or your house truly are a mess unfit for company, or that you were really into your Weeds marathon on Netflix, or that this person has a nasty habit of frequently stopping by unannounced, bringing bratty kids or irritating pets, not correcting those kids or pets when they are wrecking your shit or piercing your eardrums, and staying all fucking day while saying twelve times an hour "I guess we better get going!"-- and then they DON'T.

I digress. What I was trying to say is that at some point we are taught that the only people who should ever hear the solid "no" are children. Have you ever given someone in day-to-day conversation the quick, firm "No.", with or without an explanation following, and watched them blink really fast, actually stop in their tracks, and maybe physically recoil a little? Dude, you should check it out next time. Some people can be cool about it and shrug it off. They knew that their request was not likely to be met for whatever reason, and they move on. Some people, though, get seriously upset or whiny or whatever when someone tells them "no," and they don't give a shit what your reasoning is, or whether it was that big of a deal in the first place. This is where you might suddenly feel the need to stammer an apology or an excuse, or might find yourself being talked (coerced...) into doing whatever it was they had wanted you to do. In that situation, the initial issue ceases to be the problem--your inability to stick to your guns becomes the problem. Therefore, don't bitch to me about it, because you and I both know it's going to happen every time.

I say unless it's a life-or-death situation, you don't freakin' owe anyone a reason why you're saying "no" if you feel you have a good reason. (Disclaimer: I wouldn't recommend trying this with your boss. That's a good way to get canned PDQ.) And if you have certain requirements you want met in order for you to say "yes" instead, then don't switch to saying "yes" until those requirements are actually met. And for the love of Bob, people, say what you really mean--don't say "no" if you know you don't mean it. Otherwise, "no" will continue to mean absolutely nothing, people will continue to feel like they are taken advantage of, and I may find the need to post another long gripe posed as a theoretical discussion. I know there's more to say on the subject, but I've digressed from the point quite enough.

Any thoughts?        (I mean on the topic of "no," asshole, not on my tendency to ramble.)


  1. That is GOOD!!!!!!!! Thanks!

  2. Thanks Dave! I think adults are just so unused to hearing the word "no" directed at them that it kind of shocks them. Sometimes we're just too polite.