I believe in the power of “no”
We know it as two year olds. The power of “no.” It is one of the first words spoken… A simple, declarative statement asserting personal agency. At two, it is a primal experiment in cause-and-effect, a recognition: my words can effect the actions of others, the course of my life, the trajectory of the universe. We all learn when and how to say “no.”
I hope we learn to respect the “no” of others. This requires stepping into another’s shoes, seeing the world from a less egocentric angle. In using “no” with care, we strive to understand what the “no” means and to respond with compassion to “no.” We guard against using “no” as a weapon, and trust that others will not use it to hurt us. I believe we should invite “no” into our relationships.
Non. Nix. Nada. Not today.
Yet, I recall being groomed to relinquish the power to say “no” even when it could be the most honest thing to say. Echoes from my grandparents’ childhoods: children should be seen and not heard. No room for “no” there. Teachers stood in positions of authority and admonished me to sit quietly and raise your hand. Where is the “no” in that? Adults all around me said If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Don’t talk back. Do as I say, not as I do. Respect your elders. Silence is golden.
Zip. Zero. Zilch.
Then finally, on a starry night smelling sweetly of fresh cut straw, my “no” was stolen and brutally stuffed so far up inside me that for more than three decades I thought it was gone for good. I learned that danger lurks beneath these well-meaning well-worn adages. If you don’t believe me, consider the consequences of the un-requited “no.”
Me no nada gusta.
Do we lose our humanity when we value quiet obedience over free will and personal responsibility? What cost to democracy? What are the long-term consequences of the un-uttered “no?” If more German soldiers had said, “no”?
I don’t think that’s a good idea.
I believe we need to trust our children to learn to use “no” with grace and honesty. I also believe it is our responsibility to teach the ethical use of “no” and to respond with understanding and compassion. We need to hear “no” as much as we need to have the right to say “no” without abandoning ourselves to someone else’s “yes.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.