How Bout, No!

The commercial begins with a montage of movie scenes with characters saying, “No!” in a variety of ways, something that some of us have a difficult time doing. Whether turning down a request that we really don’t want to fulfill or just saying, “no”, to some bad habit that we’d like to overcome it’s an attitude that we too often associate with negativity or lack of compassion but which can actually be one of our best mental health allies. 

I have to admit that I am the very worst when it comes to saying, “No!” It is as though there is something in my DNA that makes me feel uncomfortable asserting myself by stating my true feelings. I literally run from aggressive sales people because if they manage to corner me I will soon be agreeing to purchase something that I do not need or want. Those creatures who lurk at kiosks in malls particularly terrify me. I once made the mistake of responding to a smile from one of them and practically had to pull out a can of mace to get away from her. She kept piling goop on my face and arguing with me about whether or not I should purchase hundreds of dollars worth of it. Luckily I was more worried about what my husband would say if I spent three hundred dollars on a tiny jar of cream that was supposed to perform miracles on my eyes than the obstinate creature who refused to let me go. I finally concocted a lame story that so confused her that I was momentarily able to flee. 

I admittedly disliked myself in that moment because I realized that all I really needed to do was utter that one little word, “No!” I would have been instantly free to walk away and have a good day but somehow I was never able to muster the courage. I was all too concerned about the feelings of a complete stranger whose goal was to strip me of my good sense and my money. I knew that, but allowed myself to be manipulated for way longer than I should have. It reminded me of the time in my youth when I signed up for a thousand dollars worth of knives from a college friend attempting to earn his way through an education by hawking overpriced blades. After a guilt filled and sleepless night I was able to cancel the order but I suffered from feelings of anxiety each time I encountered my acquaintance. It became the incident that neither of us ever spoke of again. I realized that none of it would have happened if only I had said, “No way!” from the beginning. 

So many troubles begin with someone hawking an idea that makes us uncomfortable but we nonetheless agree to accept because we fear hurting his/her feelings or losing the relationship entirely. Far too many innocents have ended up in grave financial trouble or even encounters with the law simply because they lacked the courage to voice their true feelings by refusing to participate. “No” is such a powerful word that protects us from harm when we use it wisely in conjunction with our gut feelings. Those who have learned how to express themselves honestly and kindly by refusing to do uncomfortable or overly risky or morally wrong things are the true adults among us. 

Always standing up for what we believe is right can be tough. We humans generally dislike conflict and so we turn our heads  and walk silently away from situations that look like trouble. When confronted we often use weaselly words to describe how we feel rather than diving directly into the situation. We rely on others to say the obvious, to stop the madness by insisting that, “No, this is wrong and it must stop now.” 

John McCain was a man who proved his mettle time and again. He stood up to his captors in Vietnam and later followed his conscience in the United States Senate. He followed a moral code combined with bravery that allowed him to give a thumbs down to anything that he believed was wrong. So too was Abraham Lincoln unwilling to bow to pressure in following a path of uncomfortable truths. 

We honor the courageous among us who are willing to voice a “No” when we need it because most of us are reluctant to say what is in our hearts. The saddest aspect of our society today is that so few have enough moral honesty to speak up and just say what needs to be said. Of course when the brave are ostracized or even threatened with harm or death it is easy to understand why most shy away from being the one person in the room willing to curb bad actors with a demanding, “No!”

I’m growing, getting better. I am becoming more and more immune to pressure. I have begun to use the word “No’ more and more often. I have learned that “no” is not actually negative. In fact it is sometimes the most positive word that I might use. When it comes to protecting my finances, my family or my country from harm’s way my new mantra has become, “How bout, No!”