Over the past few years, we have all heard or been told that we need to say “yes” more often. Now I am not going to sit here and tell you that there is no value to positivity. I have written too much about positivity’s value to make that kind of 180-degree turn. But I will say that there are indeed times when you need to say “no” and say it proudly.
For my purpose here, we will call saying yes as putting on your “Yes Shirt” as a symbol for the modern idea that it’s good to say yes, and less good to say no. One of the main reasons for the popularity of the Yes Shirt as compared to the No Shirt is the fear that saying no suggests that you aren’t imaginative, not aggressive enough for these days and times, or you simply are scared to say no in order not to offend anyone. The other reason is from FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. So you put on your Yes Shirt, not just to look good to your friends and coworkers, but because “life is short” and you need to “make the most out of life.” Yes is a—if not the—fundamental attitude for this 21st century world. Saying yes to any new challenge is supposed to be, in all cases, a good thing. A simple and polite no is often seen as a lack of mettle or an unwillingness to grow, or just plain selfish.
As crazy as it sounds, that is the theory behind it. Of course, the Yes Shirt is something that we usually think someone else should put on when they aren’t being positive enough. In both work and private life, we all run into situations where the commonsense answer should indeed be no, and usually we get the answer right. So what, you ask, is the problem? Well, I think it can be found in contemporary culture today. The book store shelves are filled with books teaching variations on the same theme—saying yes. I did a quick search on positive self-help books and got over 5 million hits.
Take Todd Henry for example, in his article Learning to Say Yes, he writes;
“Unfortunately, ‘no’ can be more than just a word; it can also be a lifestyle. When our default posture toward anything unknown is to shrink back, hover around the perimeter, or generally opt-out, we are refusing the best of what life offers…Creativity always begins with a yes. To create is to first say yes, then sort things out on the other side. It is to first say yes to the risk, then to embrace it, then to overcome it. All creations are not successful, but every act of creating begins with an act of bravery. I’ve come to treat the very act of saying “yes” as a successful outcome. If I do this enough times in a row, I know that I will eventually make something worthwhile. Are you living your life with a posture of yes?”
He uses all the positive words like creativity and bravery, and he associates them with saying yes. These kinds of claims are generally suggesting that we work to be motivated, find inspiration and be true to ourselves. We should focus on what is inside us, mostly by saying yes, and meeting the challenge, rather than saying no, it’s too hard and scary.
You should set your own goals, pursue your own dreams, work and live as it suits you.
The message is not live by the dreams of others, but rather by your own dreams.
Here is the rub; you are supposed to do it all while wearing the Yes Shirt. If you don’t want to be part of the demands to only say yes, you can be considered wrong. You might, from time to time, need to put on your No Shirt to achieve your goals and not get sidetracked by the needs of others, except that is considered wrong.
Again, I’m not trying to dismiss the whole positivity movement. I am not saying that they are all wrong. There are situations where positivity is the only way out of where you find yourself. There is a problem when yes is seen as the only legitimate way to handle any situation. It isn’t that I want you to pitch out your Yes Shirt, but rather put it beside with the No Shirt, the Maybe Shirt, the Doubt shirt, the Hesitation Shirt. They all are equally valid and it’s important to give all of them the same attention and know when using one or the other is appropriate.
It isn’t that I want you to
pitch out your Yes Shirt,
but rather put it beside with the
No Shirt, the Maybe Shirt,
the Doubt shirt, the Hesitation Shirt.
Being able to say no identifies you as a mature person with your own integrity. When you were a kid, developing the ability to say no was a really big step in your personal development. All of us parents want our kids to do the right thing. i.e., what they are told, and we all want our kids to develop the appropriate level of independence and maturity. Saying no is the first sign of that very development. When kids say no, they enter the world of an individual who is now able to use words to distance themselves from their parents. It is their first step towards autonomy. By this little act of opposition, they begin to define themselves in our world.
When kids say no, they enter the
world of an individual who is now
able to use words to
from their parents.
According to Danish philosopher and professor Svend Brinkman the concept of “stepping into character” is a big deal. Different from the pop psychology concepts like personality and competency, character refers to shared moral values.
When you decide to hold fast in favor of values derived from their inherent worth,
you find yourself suddenly capable of saying no when your values are threatened.
When you do that, you demonstrate character.
In my writing, I use the word integrity from time to time. When I write it, I am using it interchangeably with character, meaning you choose not to “go along to get along” with current trends or fads. You live in alignment with your certain values or ideas that are more important to you than anything. Integrity, or character, means building a coherent personal and professional identity that goes beyond when or where and sticking with it, standing fast, through thick or thin until you have real reasons to make a change. This means having the courage to say no when necessary.
Do you see it yet? Do you see that the polar opposite of integrity is your Yes Shirt? That Yes Shirt can actually be the single largest violator of your personal and private integrity that you will ever encounter. It is at its most dangerous when you never doubt that saying yes is a great, and that trying the new thing is always a good idea.
If you only own or use your Yes Shirt, you fall for anything, any old whim that passes in front of you. There is an old quote, attributed to about half a dozen people and it goes like this:
“If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
Or, to use an old therapy term, you aren’t “externally controlled” if you can say no to ideas that are outside of your value system. The greater your internal control, the greater your power to live by your values. True internal control, what I call integrity here, means living with your moral values, accepting and meeting your obligations and using reason to decide what is right and good in the various situations you encounter in your life. If you have integrity you will say no because so much of what we see every day deserves a resounding NO.
The greater your internal control,
the greater your power
to live by your values.
True believers in the Yes Shirt often label those of us who occasionally put on the No Shirt as lacking courage, or being rigid and over cautious. The theory of yes became popular because so many people are driven by fear, by the fear of loss, of not being able to keep up with the Joneses, or God forbid, missing out!
To leave those fears behind, you have to answer yes. For the most part, the orthodoxy, that is, those who insist that you only answer yes, are sure that they are correct. After all, saying yes leads to positivity, personal growth, and professional opportunities, right? They know that saying yes is the only acceptable path. But doesn’t commonsense present you with a different perspective? If you don’t know if yes is right, isn’t doubt a better option? When you are in doubt, shouldn’t the answer—at least until you find clarity—be no? Doesn’t it feel like you should have either your Doubt Shirt, or maybe even your No Shirt close at hand?
Doubt and uncertainty have lost their good name in what is now called a “risk society.” Today, certainty is worshipped like a god. Doubt is bad, being certain is good. But maybe the reason certainty is worshipped is indeed because of the lack of it in our modern world.
Modern self-help systems come up with all sorts of mental and emotional contortions designed to remove doubt or indecision in life. Take politics. Do you see decisions often being based on economic math rather than political ideals? How about daily life? We do what we can to avoid mistakes and hazards. In our professional life, are our actions producing the desired outcome? Running parallel to this desire to remove indecision are ethical rules created to limit doubt and ensure that you are doing the right things. Doubt in this world is considered the act of a hesitant person, or he or she is just “stuck” and needs to get a Yes Shirt.
Running parallel to this
desire to remove indecision
are ethical rules created to
limit doubt and ensure that you are
doing the right things.
The ethics of certainty are worshipped, and according to those ethics, it imperative to have certain knowledge. It matters little what the issues really are, e.g., health, education, economics, the environment, the acolytes of yes, use science to create certainty. In this risk society, you have to be certain to be heard. Research indicates…we know that… we have discovered finally that….Today, new risks are constantly created. Our perspectives on environmental, financial, and climate problems are all by-products of this desire for certainty.
Doubt is needed as a long-term remedy for all of this. You ask, “Frank, how do you know?” Well, look at it this way; the certainty of “I know” takes you down the path of tunnel vision, particularly when you know that it is best for you if you say yes. Doubt, by way of contrast, leads necessarily to openness, to other ways of being in the world, to new understandings. Yes is easy, so of course, it’s overwhelmingly tempting to listen to latest trends, data, etc. and ignore your Doubt Shirt and your No Shirt.
When you know, you don’t need to listen. If you doubt, you will find the perspectives of other people can offer greater meaning and value. The problem you will find with doubt is that when you doubt in this rapid, risk- based culture, it slows things down. It just doesn’t lend itself to quick choices based on gut feelings, i.e., on positivity.
“…even if there is no truth, man can be truthful, and even if there is no reliable certainty, man can be reliable.”
What she was saying is that while there might be no absolute truth, the lack of it is the very reason why it is up to us to create truth in our lives. In our world that so clearly lacks certainty, it is up to us to be reliable, creating places of order and rationality. To create such spaces, truly safe spaces, to defend our integrity and living by our rules and not those of others, it is incumbent upon us to learn to say no. In this way, saying no is a requirement for Holding Fast in our modern world.
How often do you put on your yes shirt? Is it a process of learning and experimentation… Over time you learn when to say yes and when to say no? Let me know how it works for you. If you would like to talk, schedule a time for a call and let’s give it a go.
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