I believe in the power of No. A simple two-letter word; the other N-word. The preferred word of a belligerent toddler’s scream. By adulthood, many find the word “No” difficult to mumble because we lost our voice and have been conditioned to settle for less. I’m not talking about the diminutive “no” that implies a choice or option. I’m talking about the Rosa Parks’ type of “No” that comes from the heart and is never disrespectful. This type of “No” stands on principle, challenges convention, and demands action.
I learned of the power of “no” quite by happenstance. In an effort to be a better person, I challenged myself to not say “I’m sorry” when I make a mistake and to take 100% responsibility for everything that happens in my life. I would choose not to blame others and to correct my mistake by changing my actions and thoughts. Most importantly, I would not under any circumstance use the extinct “I’m sorry” in any situation. It wasn’t easy at first and most of my friends thought I was nuts. I would stop myself mid-sentence, tell myself “No”, then state how I would think differently and hope to act differently in the same or similar situation. Then something happened. I began to like it, even better – I began to expect it from others.
When the mortgage broker made a costly error and said, “Sorry, that’s just the way it is.” I said, “No, I will not pay for your mistake. You can do better.” At closing, I had a credit for the amount of the error.
When the pharmacy incorrectly filled a prescription and said, “I’m sorry, its an insurance issue.” I said “No, I will not jeopardize my health or take responsibility for you and the insurance company’s inability to communicate. I know you can do better.” Miraculously, I received the correct prescription.
While working at a job that paid well, but offered little fulfillment, I said “No, this is not enough, I can do better. I returned to college to earn a second degree in the health care industry. Although it is hard work, I am enjoying every minute of the journey and have never felt better.
Recently, an old associate who had hurt some of my closest friends, came to me because she was feeling ostracized. She offered those worn-out, overused words – “I’m sorry”. I said, “No. Your actions created your consequences. If you want to feel better, I suggest you do better.”
What started out as a commitment to change my vocabulary has changed my life. I began to feel the courage of the unknown student in Tienanmen Square who said “No!”, and stood in the path of a procession of military tanks. I began to feel the wisdom of Gandhi, who stated, ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse yet, to avoid trouble.” Most importantly, I felt the love of my mother who told me when I was a teenager “No, that behavior is unacceptable, you can and you will do better.” On a few occasions I do say “Yes”, especially when told I can’t say “No”. I respond, “Yes, I can”.
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