Knowing when to say no is important. Once we free ourselves of the perpetual no’s of childhood and become involved in adult activities like working together with others to achieve goals we freely say yes to many things. There is energy and satisfaction working together to achieve common goals. Whether it is at work, school, church or civic organizations we have things we all care about and are willing to work together to accomplish what needs to be done. There is power in mass numbers. And we all love to celebrate community achievements.
But we can also all experiences fatigue and burnout. Whether we achieve the goals or come up short we only have so many hours in a day and only so much energy. Whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or psychological we can experience a drain on our resources if we are not careful about rationing our effort. We need to prioritize our efforts and manage our time.
How do we do that? One way is to examine why we do what we do. Are we saying yes because the ask is something we love or like to do? Is it because we feel a rational duty? Those are great and should be encouraged. But perhaps we say yes because we feel we should, or perhaps we feel an unspoken obligation. Or worse yet we feel that we will look bad if we say no. Perhaps we feel that if we don’t do it nobody will and it won’t get done.
Those times are when we need to draw the line and respectfully say no. If we step in because “no one else will and it needs to be done” we may be stepping in the way of someone who should feel more pressure to do it. In other words we might not be the one who needs to do it. Guilt, like fear, is a terrible reason to do anything and will be a repeat offender if you let it. It can also lead to resentment. Choose wisely where your efforts will make the greatest impact and leave yourself plenty of space and time to refuel.
The other time to say no is when someone or something needs to be opposed. There are those in our society who would drag us back to “the good old days” where they were more comfortable but where many people did not enjoy the benefits of today. Think of those on the margins, due to race, gender, economic disadvantages who did not fit into the “mainstream”. Those who have not had a built in birth benefit are easily forgotten. These have fought long and hard to achieve recognition and the “mainstream” nostalgia folks are resentful.
But this is no time to go backwards and these people must be opposed. The fight for voting rights, for equality, for acceptance, is not over. There are those we can reason with, use logic and debate, appeal to their common humanity. But there are others who will not be swayed, stubbornly holding to racists, ignorant, dismissive ways. It is to those that we need to say “no”.
No, we will not go back to the closets and the back alleys. No, we will not be silent, we will continue to speak truth to power, to march for a “redress of grievances”. We will continue to believe as Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. Stand up and speak up and let no one still your voice.