Family & Education

‘Yes’ and ‘No’: 2 Little Engines Pulling a Lot of Freight

Before we hop aboard one of those trains, let’s consider where it will take us
BY Jeff Minick TIMEJune 6, 2022 PRINT

Saying no is hard.

At one point in my early 40s, I was helping three renegade nuns found a small private middle school, serving on the parish council of my church, and teaching Sunday school to sixth-graders, as well as being in charge of a den in my son’s Cub Scout Pack. These were all good causes, but my wife and I were also struggling to keep two businesses afloat—a bed-and-breakfast and a bookstore—while raising and homeschooling our children.

That was the crazy year I finally learned how to say “No,” not just to others, but to myself as well. With the exception of being a Scout den leader, I had volunteered for those other tasks. Carried away by enthusiasm, I quickly found myself in an all-out sprint with the finish line nowhere in sight.

Commitments and obligations arrive with different baggage. The friend who needs help loading a moving van on a Saturday morning? No sweat on that one; it’s a one-time shot, and it’s over in four hours. The supervisor who asks us to work late several days each week? Depending on our circumstances, that proposition can be a lot tougher. We want to keep the boss happy, but we haven’t seen our wife and kids since early morning. And the parks director who approaches us about coaching our 10-year-old daughter’s soccer team? That’s two nights of practice each week and a game every Saturday for three months. That can be one heavy load.

Of course, some people are automatic nay-sayers, which can also be a mistake. By saying no to every request, they may be denying themselves an experience they might otherwise have enjoyed. Once, for example, I spoke to the Cubmaster of the Scout pack about whether I could ask a man we both knew to take my place as a den leader. He snorted with contempt.

“Danny?” he said. “He never volunteers for anything.”

Too bad for Danny, who was divorced and might have found one more way to reconnect with his son.

At any rate, being able to say no is a positive recognition of our other duties. An overloaded schedule, a lack of knowledge or skill, or agreeing to undertake a task just to make someone happy: all are good reasons to duck out of one more commitment. Besides, if we’re already devoting extra time to some project—such as serving on the Friends of the Library Board or volunteering as an assistant in our daughter’s classroom two days each week—it’s better to do one job well rather than three or four jobs poorly.

And readily available to us are some polite and gentle ways to turn down such requests. In her online article “How to Say No to Others (and Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty),” Erin Eatough offers readers 10 short replies that can get us off the hook of obligation without offending someone. These include “I’m honored you asked me, but I simply can’t,” “I’m sorry, I’m not able to fit this in,” and “Unfortunately, I already have other plans. Maybe next time!”

Many parents employ a “Yes” or “No” strategy that also works well in these situations. When my young teenagers used to ask if they might go to a party on a Saturday night, I had two answers ready to go: “Let me think about that” or “Let me talk it over with your mom.” Similarly, when someone asks us to oblige ourselves to some cause or job, we can say, “Let me consider that” or “I’m pretty busy. Let me look at my schedule.” Of course, we should then honor that promise, weighing the options before finalizing a decision.

International author Paulo Coelho offers this nugget of wisdom: “When you say ‘Yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘No’ to yourself.”

Bingo.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.
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