I can’t. I won’t. I don’t like it. I don’t want to. It does not interest me. No.
The right to say no, and to have that ‘no’ heard and respected, is a key part of getting to be a functional human being. People who are only allowed to say yes, are not allowed to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter whether the pressure to be relentlessly positive comes from a belief system, or the demands of people, being denied the right not to want, not to like, not to participate, is to be denied a very large part of your self.
I am especially wary of spiritual positions that see anything negative as bad. We are finite beings. We really do have limits. While we occupy these bodies of ours, we have limited perceptions. We don’t know everything, we can’t do everything. Flesh boundaries us. Gravity inclines us to go down, not up. These bodies can be hurt, and broken beyond repair, and no amount of positive thinking can cure us of that. Perhaps outside of our bodies we become eternal wise beings of limitless possibility, but perhaps we become nothing at all. I don’t know. In the meantime, knowing we have edges, limits and boundaries, and being able to say ‘no’ rather than breaking ourselves against them, remains a good idea. Those edges are often best affirmed by acknowledging what we are not and what we cannot do.
Of course ‘no’ is not always the answer we want to hear from other people. No, I’m not well enough to do what you want of me. No, I haven’t got time. No, this thing that you think is important is not important to me. No, I will not help you. No, I do not love you. No can hurt. Other people’s ‘no’ can haunt, demoralise, and distress. Even the small ones. Tiny things that seem of no great value to one person can shatter another person’s world.
It is a tough lesson, that things we value are worthless to someone else. Things we need are not available. Things that burn us with need and break us with grief and longing are minor trivia to others, not worth a second thought. Such is life. We may have free will aplenty and room to choose for ourselves, but we live surrounded by people who are also choosing, and they will not always fall into line with us, and that has to be ok.
The freedom to say no is the freedom to be real.
The means to say no calmly is a great asset. A ‘no’ that is asserted in anger can cause a lot of hurt. To be quietly strong in a negative statement can avoid tearing someone else down for the sake of holding a boundary line.
To hear a ‘no’ without anger, also opens the way to better things.
It doesn’t have to be black and white. We can negotiate, we should be able to. Can I say ‘this really matters to me?’ Perhaps your ‘no’ didn’t recognise that you are brushing off trivia and I am breaking my heart. Perhaps my ‘no’ can become a ‘not today’. Perhaps we need to talk about what’s really important between us. When I have time. When I’m in less pain. Another day. Perhaps my no can be partial, recognising what I can’t bear but also finding places to compromise. There must be absolutes. There have to be lines we will not cross. There also has to be room for flexibility, kindness, compromise, negotiation and rethinking.