The art of “no”

The word “no” has a bad reputation. I get it; it’s inherently negative. “No” is literally the epitome of the negative response. “No” is prohibitive and exclusionary and saturated by the weighty remnants of our bigoted past – a resurgent past, no less, if a past at all. Socially, the connotation is present, especially, in the context of opting out of something others deem inherently positive. The purveyor of the “no” is often persecuted or viewed as defective in some way for having refused such an unquestionable bounty. “All you had to do was say yes,” they think; “the treasure could’ve been yours.”

But “no” is also essential and liberating. It’s character defining. Sure, say it too much and you’re, objectively, a “negative person” but before you get to that extreme there are many other levels to explore: opinionated, complex, self-assured, mysterious, etc. Don’t get me wrong, the world needs more “yes” people. You are the doers, the overachievers. You are our elected officials (for better or worse), our vocal leaders, our explorers. You create opportunity and make our world more expansive. However, we who perhaps place more value in the alternative than we do the treasure, are often charged with populating that expansive world with content – we are the creators.

As a self-proclaimed creator, my “nos” are the currency with which I purchase time to create. Often that time comes at the opportunity cost of doing something fun or socially engaging but that’s my journey.

Ok, and to be honest with you.. can I be honest?.. I’mma be honest. Sometimes you just don’t want to do a thing. I get that you’re way into it and that is fantastic, but, to me, that sounds like the worst idea I’ve ever heard. I’d rather punch myself in the face for two hours than to do that thing. Take that thing, dunk it in a vat of fire ants and horse shit, then throw it into highway traffic and it still couldn’t be any worse of a thing. No offense. But that’s ok! Our diversity of interests makes life more interesting – just don’t give me a hard time about it. People often go into a proposal assuming it’s a no “no” scenario and end up getting heart-broken when that turns out to not be the case. But really think about that; reverse the roles. You don’t want that no “no” scenario to exist because you don’t want to feel obligated to do whatever bullshit thing I want you to do either.

Ok, can I be honest again? I’mma be honest. Sometimes it just feels great. Sometimes I just want to say no because it’s an option and I like controlling my destiny. Is that wrong? Is it just me? Sometimes I get a mild euphoria from the creation of a “no.”

This is what it’s like: I like to cook, so I’m going to use a baking metaphor. When you go into your explanation of why this thing you want me to do is so great, I’m prepping my ingredients. I’m mixing the flour and salt and eggs in my bowl. You go into your story about what a great time you had last time and I’m adding in the brown sugar and chocolate chips. I’m pouring it into the baking dish and setting it on the middle rack of my 350-degree oven – damn this is gonna be tasty. For 15 minutes you weave your story, your radiant smile beaming at the sheer idea of us doing this together, before, finally, you ask: “do you want to join?”

“Ding!” The timing couldn’t be more perfect. I slide my mitts on and out of my oven comes this sweet, steaming, chocolatey confection: “No thanks.” And I float away on a cloud of sweet, feathery vanilla mist, into the uncharted abyss of whatever the fuck else I want to do. Damn, that feels good!

And it’s not you at all. I just value my alone time – my “whatever” time. That, to me, is freedom. I know myself. I know that to be happy I need to reserve time to just let my mind wander and to let life occur organically and spontaneously as opposed to a prearranged framework. I don’t designate any particular time for this; it’s more like a release valve when all of these crazy thoughts pile up and need to be filtered through. The unpredictability of that release often puts me, and I assume other like-minded individuals, at odds with the “doers” of the world.

Now for a dose of reality. If you’re in a relationship (as I am), there will be a lot of things you don’t want to do. Do most of them. To my lady’s credit, most of the things I end up saying “yes” to are as fulfilling as advertised. Furthermore, making her happy is worth enduring the things that don’t particularly appeal to me – most of the time. The key is to make your friends and significant others appreciate your perspective. If you’re like me, you need your “nos” to recharge yourself by affording you the time to do the things you find personally fulfilling. I know for a fact that there are people who think I’m no fun. Hell, sometimes you’re right – I am no fun. But I find balance by being strange enough to still be interesting. And even if I wasn’t interestingly strange, that’d be ok too. You always have the option to choose who not to associate with – to exercise your right to “no.”


Bonus topic: The negative “yes”

We’ve all been there: Someone asks you a leading question, where they’re expecting you to say “no” to preserve their feelings or self-esteem. I’m a big fan of honesty in general, so I lean heavily toward that in most situations. I feel like, in the long-run, I’m serving you best by letting you know my true opinion, regardless of your immediate reaction. No need to be a dick by creating situations where you just want to be contrarian, but, just like I explain in my above examples of using your “nos,” you have two options in a yes or no question – consider both.

  • “Am I being an asshole?” – Yes
  • “Do you think I should give up on him/her?” – Yes
  • “Is one more shot too many shots” – Absolutely

That’s the negative “Yes.”

One thought on “The art of “no”

  1. Pingback: When you ask her out and she says “no.” | Truth in Jest

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