No is a small word with powerful connotations. It can be used to send a message of finality, of desperation or of resolve. It is incontrovertible. It does not mean maybe. This is not the time for coaxing, bullying or cajoling. This is a word that must be respected.
When I am angry, the word No comes to mind quickly. My mental dictionary translates the feeling and I may end up shouting “Stop!” I never feel well after I have lost my temper. The emotion behind the thought of No is strong. It comes when you find yourself backed into a corner. You must quickly demonstrate that what is happening is not to your liking. Retreat is the order of the day. You are not deserting the field, only choosing to live on so that you can fight another day. No can be an active word in that it leads you to reshape what will happen next. Paradoxically, sometimes before getting to Yes we have to say No.
No is a levidrome. Its twin is On. Herein lies an amusing puzzle: In the binary world On would represent the opposite of No. So from analog to digital we have a yin/yang mystery. No implies that we have turned off, turned away, or maybe even turned ourselves inside out. We need a rest from decision making for a spell. The lights are out. The Off switch is engaged and taped down. Please leave us alone while we go into shutdown mode. Processing. Processing.
There was a time after the death of my first wife when my decision making circuits were shut down. Every time my brain came to a choice intersection, I would reflexively turn off. For a while I even forgot how to engage the On switch. Did it go up or down? Saying No outright was way easier than risking another foreign situation. I didn’t feel lazy so much as squeamish. My biological cyber security was in question. The passage of time helped. At some point I remember making a conscious decision to say yes more often. I spent less time weighing the options presented and more time engaging in the invitation. I recalled a mentor once saying to me that there is often a good reason why someone invites you to do something.
My new granddaughter is almost two and the only word she uses consistently is No. It makes me smile when I hear it. I wonder what awareness of the situation she has when she says it. She seems to know her mind and I act accordingly. For adults, in some situations it takes courage to say No. We may not want to let someone down. We don’t want to be misinterpreted. We don’t want to be labelled a poor sport or a Debbie Downer. We don’t want to turn people off. The fact remains that sometimes the word No needs to be said.
Even though No is a valid answer to a question, my life feels somehow better when I can get to Yes.
In the inner city elementary school where I was hired to provide Guidance programming there were many children with mental health issues. In one case, a grade two classroom teacher asked me if I would help reduce the amount of bullying that she had observed. I began by building awareness amongst the students by asking them to wear a tag, during recess, fastened to a chord around their necks. Every time they felt they were being bullied they were to tear a little piece off of their tag. When we met at the end of the first day we talked about the damage that had been done to their tags. Some students hadn’t torn any pieces off their tag. Others had a few pieces missing, while a few had most of the tag gone.
The focus throughout this exercise was not on the bully but on the response to a feeling of being torn.I recorded these results, using the data to design an appropriate program. By the end of the month the majority of the students were talking freely about their feelings and were sharing with their teacher how they were standing up for themselves.
Every teacher will tell you that they learn from their students. In this particular case I was shocked to learn how many people (young or old) can feel that pieces of themselves are lost by the end of each and every day. As we tear around trying; to get what we need, to satisfy our wants, to please others whom we love, it’s no wonder we can feel shredded.
The youngsters in my school setting would often tear up as they told me their stories of being pushed around. At that age emotions rule. Everything HAS to be fair. Crying helped to a degree but then the tears would dry and a more constructive solution had to be found. I was pleased to see that, over time, many students understood that there were things they could do as individuals to protect their ‘tag’. If they didn’t reduce the tears, at least they could find ways to repair themselves to face another day.
Much later in my life, a friend of my wife introduced me to this wonderfully poignant song by Peter Mayer called Japanese Bowls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOAzobTIGr8
The imagery is outstanding and relevant to the notion of our amazing ability to be resilient to the soul tears each life can experience. As I have come to feel the full understanding of this song I often cry. The tears that fall are from the joy of my personal healing.
Whether in early stages of personality development, in relationships that fall apart or in end of life considerations, assessing our tears helps us to decide what to do next. The data we have collected on ourselves is not always pretty. Our experiences may have left scars.
But I believe we can always come around again to the beauty of life.