Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Why does no one point out that there can be some spectacular and horrifying consequences to saying no?

Before I get to the point of my post, I would like to say that I believe all people have a right to say no. They have a right to draw boundaries, and they should be encouraged to do so with abandon. Children should be taught the power of saying "no" to this and "no" to that. Women and men should say "no" all the time to all kinds of advances, questions, opportunities. However, I feel that all of these "the power of no" conversations are lost teaching opportunities. People are overlooking the uncomfortable other side of standing up for yourself and drawing boundaries, which are done solely for selfish reasons: to secure what makes you happy (or what is healthy for you). This "uncomfortable other thing" is the elephant in the room that everyone is ignoring: that there can be unforeseen and even unpleasant consequences to saying no. Think of all the things that qualify for "no" in this world.

Saying no to someone who wants a relationship with you.
Saying no to an applicant that desperately wants a job.
Saying no to someone who is demanding equality.
Saying no to a person who is demanding to be respected.
Saying no to someone who asks for your help.
Saying no to someone who wants compassion.
Saying no to someone who just wants to be listened to.
Saying no to someone who wants to be included.
Saying no to someone who wants monogamy.
Saying no to someone who wants your money.
Saying no to someone who wants drugs.
Saying no to someone who wants a book deal.

The list is endless, but our society teaches that it is OKAY TO SAY NO. Fine. I'm all for that. Every single one of us should always get what we want and never have to do anything that even remotely makes us uncomfortable or could possibly damage us in any way.

In a perfect world, there should be no consequences to saying "no," and I for one will line up for this perfect world so fast I might get whiplash. But here's the rub: we don't live in a perfect world. We don't live in a world where a person can freely slam the door in someone else's face and expect them to be "right as rain" about it. Sure...we can try to educate them...we can try to condition behavior to the point that, if someone rejects you...if someone says no to something you want badly...then you just need to smile, say thank you, and walk away. Yes, we can try to achieve this utopia. But the pessimist in me thinks that people should all be aware that sometimes this isn't the case. And on very rare occasions, it can backfire spectacularly (and in horrible terrifying ways). When I watch the news and see instances of these backfires...when I see horrible crimes that have been committed because someone was so angry because they had a door to something (that they desired deeply) slammed in their face so many times...I am stunned by how many people come forth and say, "We were so surprised. I can't believe that this man did _____. We never saw it coming." Are we really this naive?

I'm not a criminal psychologist. But I don't think it takes a criminal psychologist to see some horrible shootings that have occurred as a result of repeated "no's" (or their equivalent) heaping on top of unrequited desires for (insert blank). And again, I'm not saying that any of this is right. People should feel free to say "no" as much as they want with absolutely no consequences. But I don't ever hear someone saying to a child, "I want you to know that it's okay to say 'no.' But be aware, that if you do say 'no' to someone...that if you make them feel disrespected in any way...there's a very rare possibility that this someone will not take it well and either hurt you or a bunch of other people. That's just how life works, and you need to be prepared for that consequence. And be aware that the consequence need not be immediate. It could take years of 'no's to eventually break a person. Yours could be the first or last in a long line of them. It's all just Russian roulette and sometimes, in life, ya just gotta take a spin and see how it turns out." one says that. Instead the last half of that sentiment gets chopped off and all that's said to the child is, "I want you to know that it's okay to say no."

I think that this is wrong to do. It raises a person to believe that "no" is empowering and that you can throw it in another person's face and they just gotta take it. But it completely ignores or outright disrespects the potential and power of violence. I don't know how many times I've heard people say, "violence doesn't solve anything." It's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. I usually am swift to correct them by saying, "Actually, violence solves a lot of things. Depending on the level of violence, it has a potential to bring a swift end to any disagreement. It has the potential for finality, unlike any other thing. It just depends on how committed to the violence someone is." I have actually been asked to leave a home because I said this to someone. They were so "shaken" by my ability to point this out. However, in my defense there were others in the room that immediately agreed with me, making this person who kicked me out of their home very cross that I could possibly bring up such a sentiment around their children.

So here's my ultimate point: it's my observation that we are increasingly becoming a society where no one wants to deal with the garbage. And yes, I'm using "garbage" as a metaphor. "Mommy, I don't want to put my hands on the garbage because my hands are dirty and I smell." Yes, yes that is a reasonable thing. However, if there is no one that wants to put their hands on the garbage, the garbage starts to rot and fester and it does start to pile up. There's more and more garbage every day. No one wants to date the garbage. No one wants to live with the garbage. No one wants to have sex with the garbage and get that horrible mess all over us. We are raised to expect better, and (for lack of a better metaphor) to avoid the garbage because we are better than the garbage. Do you get what I'm saying? But I think that the garbage gets tired of being treated like garbage. And sometimes (very rarely) it has a very strong opinion about its perceived "garbage status." Yes, we could just brush it off as mental illness, but I think there's more to this than PTSD, "aspies," and any other flavor of the psychological universe. I think people need to become more aware of the power of anger, and they need to be more aware of spotting signs of anger and treating anger like a disease. If people thought of anger as a disease, they would learn the causes, and learn how to cure it no matter how unpleasant the cure happens to be. But we don't like "unpleasant" conversations as a society, so we'll probably just stick our heads in the sand.

Yes, there can be some spectacular and horrifying consequences to saying "no" to the garbage. If we don't want to deal with these consequences, fine by me. But we should all be prepared for them in any case. We should also, maybe, have a societal conversation between all of us that we should try to say as many "Yesses" as we possibly can stomach before throwing up. Maybe if we all dirty ourselves just a little bit, then no one has to suffer too much.


  1. The Texas shooter was garbage by all accounts. He never should have been able to buy a cap gun let alone an assault rifle.

    1. From what we're starting to find out about him, it sounds like he didn't get the correct treatment and medical care and perhaps other things that we may never know that he needed to be a decent human being. Whoever said "no" to all that just added more onto the pile of things that contributed to the massacre.

  2. While you have a point, there's also the part of that where saying "yes" because of the threat of violence is actually suffering violence. For instance, for a woman to have sex with someone because she's scared of violence if she says "no" is a form of rape, and rape is violence. Men (because it's almost always a man using violence as an enforcement method) just need to learn to behave better.

    1. I think you may have missed my point. I'm pointing out that we don't live in a world of no consequence. If we say "no" to someone whether it be sex, money, opportunity, equality, respect and on and on and on...we should all be ready to pay the consequence (and these consequences can be the most terrible things you can possibly imagine). And we shouldn't be surprised by it. In fact, we should expect the best outcome but prepare for the worst. That's a motto I live by. Should we fear consequence (which seems to be your point)? Absolutely. But we shouldn't let fear change our decisions. Fear is a very useful emotion. It tells us when we are in dangerous waters and to tread carefully. I think that this more accurately describes the society in which we find ourselves today.

    2. No, I didn't miss your point. I'm saying that it does no good to appease people to avoid consequences if you, then, have to suffer those same consequences, which is very often the result when dealing with people from the Right.

    3. A co-worker read my post and was intrigued by it. She summarized better what I was trying to say here, and that is that empathy is no longer a focus for our country. It's important to be able to empathize with another person, to feel their situation, and how a "no" could possibly impact their life. She said she's noticed it too...that we have become a self-absorbed society. Of course she blames our leadership and the fact that they tout "America First." How self-absorbed is that. She brought up that saying "no" to nations asking for help or asking for treaties is bound to have consequences that we cannot foresee. But right now, the United States has no empathy (or very little).

  3. I don't see the problem s in our culture coming from an inability to say "no." I think we're becoming a self-centered ungovernable people, with too many of us only thinking about our own interests instead of what's good for the country. It's time to put country first over party. There was a time when Americans came together to accomplish great things. If we fall prey to those politicians who would divide us, our days as a world leader are over.

  4. So, what you're saying is that if we choose to say no to something, we may have to deal with negative fallout from the person we are saying no to. Do I have it?

    I disagree. While we should pay attention to saying no kindly and with compassion, we are not and cannot be held responsible for how people take our no. We can only control what we do. We cannot control what someone else does no matter how much discourse we put into the idea of what people should or should not be doing.

    People have wildly different reactions to the same stimulus. If you're interviewing four people for a job, three of them won't get it. One may be grateful. She had another, better job lined up, but she was applying for this job because a friend asked her to. Another might be disappointed, but might find out that he doesn't agree with the company's core beliefs later. And the third might be angry. So, he gets a gun and shoots up the place. Should he have gotten the job? Was his anger justified?

    We can't live in fear that saying no to someone might turn into a massacre. People who think that going off on a group of people for "disrespecting" them haven't figured out how to live in society. And yes, this has become a problem because these people are really acting out with this gun thing. But that doesn't make it up to us to coddle these people to try to stave off the terrible.

    OK, this is way too long, and I think I've lost my point. And I may have misinterpreted yours. Peace.

    1. Hey Liz. Thanks for commenting. So we’ll have to agree to disagree. I do agree with you that we cannot control how people will take our no. But I definitely disagree if you’re saying that we don’t have to deal with negative fallout as a result. I don’t think negative fallout cares one bit for your feelings or attitude. It’s the bus that just comes out of nowhere and splats all over you. You get no control, and deal with it you must. I also am not saying we should live in fear. I’m saying that fear is healthy, can tell you when something is wrong, and is a useful emotion. You should never allow fear to dictate action or decisions, but to simply say, “I am not afraid” I think is ignorant.

    2. Do we have to deal with the negative fallout of our noes? I wonder how many innocent bystanders bear the brunt of these temper tantrums. What I'm saying is that the recipient of our noes may go and take their pain out on someone else.

  5. Your coworker who mentioned the lack of empathy in our society told some truth. On the one hand, we've seen people travel hundreds of miles on their own dime to help out strangers after a hurricane. But then we also see our society emphasize rugged individualism and ignoring our fellow creatures. And ignoring people is a cruel version of rejection and saying no a thousand times.

    One element that's been overlooked, when talking about all the anger in our society, is that anger is very often (especially in men) a symptom of depression. What is the source of depression? It's different for each person, sometimes difficult to treat, and dangerous for the people suffering from it and even people beyond their personal hells.

    I wish I had an answer or a cure for these problems.