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The Sacredness of “No” in a “Yes” World

We live in a “yes” culture. Winners say “yes.” Elections are won with chants of “Yes, we can.” “Yes”-men seem to have thejob security. “Yes” gets us the attention we crave. We are conditioned that “yes” is always an appropriate answer…

One of my favorite songwriters wrote about his conflict of having to decide betweenoccupations: a classical pianist, a college professor, or a musician in a rock band…It would’ve been an easy choice for me. He articulated that he couldn’t pursue all three of his dreams. He lamented the “lives we have to kill” if we are to get where we need to go. I didn’t understand this when I was younger, but he was wrestling with the requisite of saying “no” in a “yes” world…

Sounds easy, but”no” is a difficult little word in a culture whereanswering in the negativeisviewed as missing the mark or coming up short…

A woman who had cared for hundreds of dying people compiled a list of their most common regrets. She noted the number one collective disappointment of these souls as they faced their own mortality was: “living the life others expected of me.” I think we all know people who spend a great deal of time running around to meet other folk’s expectations. They take on project after project, job after job, relationship after relationship, purchase after purchase, all because they can’t say “no.”

When you whittle away all the excuse-making for this busyness, it comes back to the same poison. These folks live under the oppression of the expectations of others.

Stephen Pressfield writes in his book The War of Art about the necessity of knowing what we were “put here to do” — because we all have a contribution to make. He writes, “ If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet. You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.” I believe that most of us, when circumstances force us to be honest about our dreams, know exactly what that contribution is…

We only have so much energy, creativity, passion and time.

Saying “yes” to the wrong thing is toxic to what we were “put here to do.”…

I suppose the musician was right; we have lives to kill. We have “no’s” to stand firmly on…

Are you born to be a coach? Then say “no” to the evening responsibilities that keep you from working with kids. Want to be writer? Then say “no” to all that draws your focus away from writing. Called to serve the poor in the third world? Then say “no” to the new car or the big house payment or the high paying job that keeps you stuck in suburbia.

I am terrible at this “no” thing… I feel guilty saying “no” 99.9% of the time.

Recently, it has occurred to me that we are often protecting the sacred when we say “no”…

Consider that one “no” might just free your passion and energy to transform the life of a child… one “no” might preserve the creative energy to pen a sentence or two that alters the course of someone’s life. One “no” could even save your most valued relationship…

Maybe a simple “no” is the catalyst that will lead to a “cure for cancer, a brilliant new symphony, or cracking cold fusion…

I wonder if the world isn’t truly changed by the people who have mastered the art of saying “no”…

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