“A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” ~Gandhi
Stop the automatic behavior. Stop saying “yes” if it’s not what you really want to do.
A few weeks ago I reconnected over lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in a number of years. In the early 90’s, I worked for Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (as an Administrative Assistant to the legendary Dr. Rodney Page) and somehow my duties morphed to working with the Earth And Spirit Council in the planning of an amazing conference with Matthew Fox on environmental awareness and spirituality. After the conference I became a founding member of the Earth and Spirit Board, and its secretary for a couple of years.
The Board was an amazing and eclectic group of visionary people. Now, twenty years later, there is a movement to create another conference, called “Earth and Spirit; The Second Generation” – which will speak to a new generation. I am really thrilled by the idea. My friend at lunch asked me if I wanted to get involved again. I gave a tentative “yes”…but it hasn’t worked out.
It’s not that I don’t want to get involved, or that I don’t believe in the effort. I do and I do. It’s that in seriously evaluating my life right now, there are other things I want to do more. But, my friend is very charismatic and focused, so I found myself saying “maybe” (thinking to myself, “well, maybe…”) rather than “No, but thank you for asking” which would have been more honest and accurate.
I realized, after misreading an email, driving to downtown Portland only to learn I had the wrong date – that my feelings about the issue were complex, but the most specific feeling was that this wasn’t so much of a priority for me anymore. I have moved on to other things.
It’s not that I don’t care. I do. Very much in fact - but now I care differently.
How many of us take what is handed to us, follow what is put in front of us or say yes to things that don’t really align with who we are or what we want in our lives? How often do I say “Yes” more because I want to be liked, or avoid conflict – than because I am really committed to something?
I’m a huge fan of the word yes. I am a huge fan of saying “yes” to life. But I also realize that sometimes we say yes to things that don’t matter to us. We pass the time with the word yes, and don’t really utilize our choice in the matter. In this case “yes” loses its value.
I had a teacher who once told me “Your ‘Yes’s mean nothing until you learn how to say ‘No’.”
I’m trying to become more conscious of my ready use of the word “yes”. Or at the very least to take a breath and tell people, “I’ll think about it and get back to you.” This is very difficult for me because I want to be all things to all people. To not say yes on the spot might be to risk disapproval.
I found this mode to be quite liberating…and am getting much better at getting over the guilt that seems to creep in when I say “no”. No, I can’t do that. No, I don’t have time. No, I’m not interested. No, it’s not a match. No, maybe another time. No, I need more. No, but how about this?
A few years back a very nice older gentleman from my church asked me if I would play the piano at a special dinner he was having for his square-dancing friends. The night of the event, I found myself pulling up to the old Masonic Lodge where the event was being held and feeling a lot of resentment for my friend – why had he imposed on me like this?
In one of those “a-ha” moments it dawned on me that the only reason I was there was not because my friend asked me, it was because I had said, “Yes”. The only person who imposed on me was myself. Why was I blaming my friend if I was the one who said “Yes”? I made a choice.
If you say yes to everything, never discerning the right yes for you, what difference does it make what you’re saying yes to? Your yes loses its authority. And sometimes from that we can start resenting people when the real problem lies within ourselves. Not fair…
Learning the power of the word no is about learning the power of discernment and becoming deliberate in your choices. You have to get rid of the old before you can take on the new. You have to say no to the things that don’t serve you to make room for the yes in your life that does.
Why is this so difficult for some of us?
Because it forces us to be deciders. Yikes!
It forces us to choose. In forcing us to choose, it makes us very conscious of what we’re choosing. In being very conscious of what we’re choosing, we become vulnerable or fearful that what we want might not be available to us. We become aware that our physical and emotional resources are limited – that we (at least in terms of our time and energy) are finite beings. And, like relationships, we are forced to commit. No more excuses about “why do those people always bother me?” – so if there’s any discomfort or resentment, I have to own it. Scary.
So what would be wrong with learning how to make deliberate choices in the direction of our desires, or the things that really charge us up anyway?
What would be so wrong with just pausing on an automatic yes to consider, “Is this what I really want? Is this something I’m passionate about?” And then thinking it through before making a final decision?
Because, the thing is, sometimes we say yes to things because we are afraid our life is as good as it gets. So, then the question becomes one of faith: Do we believe we can have what we want? Do we have the ability to receive our good?
Or have we so cluttered our lives with small yes’s that we miss out on the one yes that truly matters?
Take some time to consider what you are saying yes to. Ask yourself, “…is my heart in this? Or can I let this go to make room for something that matters more?”
Then realize that it’s not the “something” that matters more. It’s that you matter more, and it’s time to simply decide.