Just say no

The slogan of the US anti-drugs campaign of the 1980s seems so facile today. Reportedly, the slogan had an effect and drugs use declined slightly. Some people therefore did say no, or simply weren’t subject to temptation. There could have been other reasons too. However, over time, the slogan ceased to have its effect. Maybe it just got worn out. People just said yes.

Being negative is really very hard. It demands a conscious effort to disappoint friends, family, colleagues, collaborators. It forces you to deal with their subsequent negative reactions. It’s so much easier to say yes.

If someone asks you to bring some shopping back, you say yes. If your neighbour asks you to feed the cat, you say yes. These are easy ‘yeses’. You find yourself helpful – and useful. Helping people brings a smile, a pleasant inner feeling. And you benefit from reciprocity too. You can ask others to do something for you. And you can keep doing it, and more and more. And does that inner feeling grow?

Just say yes. Yes, each time someone asks. Yes, you take on obligations. If you commit, you can’t let people down. They have invested their hopes in you. Can you disappoint their hopes? Of course if you’ve said yes in the past to your friend or colleague, it’s more likely you’ll say yes again. Yes, yes, yes, and yes, until … until you reach breaking point.

Would you be willing to give a presentation at our conference? Yes, I say. Could you just check my article? Yes, I say. Would you contribute to our journal? Yes. Can you participate in this project? Yes. Would you give a keynote next week? Yes. Will you be a member of the committee? Yes. Can you take these classes today? Yes. Can you write a paper for the Commission tomorrow? Yes. Can you submit it yesterday? Yes. Can you review this paper now? Yes. Can you meet our visitors last week? Yes. Aagh! It goes on and on.

Saying yes stacks up obligations and commitments. This when I wonder how I will cope.

People tell me I just have to say no. Maybe they think it’s easy. It isn’t. I’ve taken the easy path so far. I just say yes. It’s my nature. And everyone knows I say yes; so they ask me again, and again I say yes. How do I learn to say no?

Saying no is harsh, forbidding, perhaps even anti-social. And the no-sayers know this. That’s why they have to soften it with ‘just’. But there’s no ‘just’ about it.

Maybe that’s why ‘Just say no’ withered as a slogan. It aimed at ‘no’, but ‘just’ made it seem too easy. It ain’t.

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