In a world where yes-man-ship tends to get you furthest in classrooms and careers, saying no might be a costly proposition. But does the desire to conform and associate justify an individual disregarding all sense of right and wrong and doing what is necessary for immediate gains? We discuss why learning to say no is an extremely important personality aspect humans need to hone.

LETTER Remember the tale of the old man, his son and their donkey? They once started a journey with both atop the donkey’s back. But the townsmen objected to their pitilessness. They lambasted both the father and son for being cruel on the poor animal. The advice was taken and the son got down from the donkey’s back, resuming the journey on foot. Soon, some passersby took exception of the arrangement and lambasted the father for making his young son suffer the journey’s hardship on foot. The father, too, felt for his son. He offered to walk himself and had his son sit upon the donkey’s back.But that too was heartless, according to some travelers they met a few miles down the road. This time, it was the son who got a piece of those travelers mind for making the old man walk and enjoying the journey himself.

Embracing The N-Word Why It’s Important To Learn To Say No

Fed up by now, the father and the son tied the donkey’s feet to a bamboo pole, raised the pole to their shoulder and resumed the journey.

Most people refuse to say no even when they should, because as humans, we generally want to conform. For in conformity lies belonging and association, an urge inherent in all humans.

But even that did not silence the critics, who mocked the duo’s foolishness of carrying the donkey towards the destination, instead of it carrying them to it. There was much laughter, much to the duo’s chagrin, and the donkey’s discomfort. As they passed a bridge on a river, the donkey kicked himself lose and fell head first into the raging water, never to be seen again.They tell us the moral of the story is, please all, please none. But it could have well been just this: learn to say no.


Conflict, Conformity, Popularity

Despite having been known to almost all dwellers of this planet over centuries, the tale of the two men and their donkey does not appear to have any effect. Just like the father and son who wanted to please everyone, most people want to as well, because as humans, we generally want to conform. For in conformity lies belonging and association, an urge inherent in all humans.This sense of conforming could well be a carry forward from our ancient ancestors, who moved in large groups to survive. Moving away from the group or wanting to go your own way guaranteed certain death in face of predators and other natural threats. So this notion of staying close together might have been passed down our genetic code, and might be the reason we want to oblige all and sundry. Another reason for people not opting to say no to even unfair demands or to impossible assignments is our natural tendency to avoid conflict.

There should be a clear difference between trying to help others or do them favors and putting your own wellbeing or safety on the line just to garner approval

Over the eras, no has become quite a distressing word in human societies. This is why we neither want to hear it ourselves nor do we want to say it. It could lead to arguments, conflict, could invite displeasure of or offend teachers, parents, managers; people we would not ideally like to annoy. Most of us are raised to be polite and be agreeable. Even the average education system, generally, expects you to follow instructions, as do work environments later in life. But does being agreeable mean one says yes to everything that is thrown one’s way?Well, it should not be the case. And there should be a clear difference between trying to help others or do them favors and putting your own wellbeing or safety on the line just to garner approval.No is a powerful weapon, and can only be exercised by those who are powerful themselves. And by power we do not mean physical muscle, but the mental strength to know that one’s worth does not depend on acceptance from the world and that what is wrong will always be wrong, even if your closest friends are doing it. Take the case of cigarette smoking for example. Many who smoke initially get into the habit just because “all the cool kids” do it.

And to be part of that cool gang of kids. But how cool a chronic bronchitis really is, only a smoker can tell.Then there are other activities teenagers tend to get involved in because they are super cool. Drugs, dare-deviling of stupid proportions, dangerous liaisons and so on and so forth. All because friends think these are “fun” and he or she must do so too to remain part of the group and/or avoid mockery.As such, conformity puts young minds under constant stress and fear of losing their affinity with the group they relate to. It’s a constant battle of putting up a smile, acting involved and more importantly pretending to enjoy whatever antics are up for display.In extreme cases, such behavior leads to severe mental health issues and even depression.But to those who have been taught that self-worth is something beyond the meaningless approval of random peers, and it is okay to take a stand over what is right, mental health or stress is the least of concerns.

Why Please Peers?

Seeking approval from one’s peer group is an instinct. From infancy, humans are socialized in a manner that makes seeking approval natural. Right from the beginning, as toddlers, the “good boy”, “good girl” rhetoric subtly embeds itself in our conscience leading us to continue wanting to please others and gaining their approval.As adolescents, the need increases ten-folds, because receiving acceptance of peers boasts a young person’s sense of belonging and self-worth.Unfortunately, peer groups can sometimes exert too much pressure on individuals who are unable to say no to all the whimsical demands of their peers. 

No is a powerful weapon, and can only be exercised by those who are powerful themselves. And by power we do not mean physical muscle, but the mental strength

Peer pressure is very real and can lead to a person feeling trapped, unaccepted, or helpless in the face of adverse reaction from friends.Several sociologists including Freud, have tried to explain how peer pressure is exerted through what is called the “group-mind.” According to the group-mind theory, people can become de-individualized as they internalize crowd consciousness and begin acting on the same emotional level as other members of the group.The sociologists believe that group-mindedness can give way to irrationality and recklessness. For example, as an individual may never attempt to act rowdy on campus on their own, but within a group, persons may end up acting unlike themselves.

The ‘No’ Shield

No is a term that most people are afraid of using because it is often confused with negativity and defensiveness. In fact this little word can be a mighty shield against exploitation and unfairness.Having the confidence to say no at work, family, or intimate relationships can protect one against undue emotional and physical abuse.We may say yes in many situations to appear more agreeable, but it cannot guarantee acceptance or fulfillment. People avoid refusing their superiors because it can make them appear weak, lacking ambition, or simply ungrateful.Women have a greater chance of getting exploited if they do not practice the use of no, because there are sexual predators out there who are waiting to manipulate their targets by exercising power.Therefore, it is necessary to have the agency to say no. No is a powerful term, and if used in the right context and at the right moment, it can be the difference between losing one’s integrity and self-respect, and keeping it.The use should not be limited to situations involving workplace exploitation, harassment or abuse. People must learn to be more comfortable with using the word no, as it can act as a shield whenever one’s faced with unwanted, unlikeable, and impossible circumstances.

The Unselfish No

Yes, a no can be unselfish contrary to popular belief. The negative connotation associated with word prevails because societies do not want for their decorum to be disturbed. However, ruffling some feathers at the cost of protecting one’s self from exploitation, getting over-worked, underpaid, or abused is far productive and beneficial for the social fabric.The psychological cost of saying no can be enormous though. Since childhood, we are taught not to source unpleasantness, but it is also during our earliest years that we exhibit the lowest inhibition when it comes to saying no.As soon as children start to see themselves as separate from their parents, they are often observed using the word the no. Whether it is a portion of food they dislike or a toy, they excitedly use no to indicate their displeasure. Even though toddler, adolescent, and adult behavior is not fully comparable, as humans, we do tend to carry forward habits and behaviors from childhood to adult life.

Mindless conformity puts young people under constant stress. It’s a constant battle of putting up a smile, acting involved and more importantly pretending to enjoy whatever antics are up for display

However, excessive use of no is frowned upon because it supposedly makes one appear too stubborn and unfriendly.Therefore, it is important to define priorities and to know that it is impossible to please everyone.Defining priorities is essential for focusing energy on the right tasks and maximizing productivity. The frivolous use of yes can lead to undue stress and anxiety because there will too many things to focus on when one can only tackle perhaps, two at a time.Albeit saying no is thought to be selfish, it is, in fact, unselfish because by using the word and prioritizing tasks, we can prove to be effective, productive members of classes, workplaces, and families.It is also imperative to able to utter no because it can aid in keeping true to our values, goals, and personality. Every effort exerted in the wrong direction can set us several steps back. We need to clarify our concepts of selfishness and selflessness. Anything that threatens to demean the individuality, productiveness or mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of a person, no matter how selflessly done, should not be acceptable.In case one is faced with a situation that has the potential to do any of the above-mentioned harms, it should be met with an affirmative no.

Learn To Say It

No, as discussed, is not an easy term to use, and it can take a lot of learning to become comfortable with the word itself for the one saying it and the other receiving it.However, it must be remembered that a person has the right to refuse any advances or propositions that are outside the bounds of their work requirements, are a threat to their personal space, or detrimental to their quality of work, values, beliefs, and physical and mental alertness.Being assertive and disrespectful are two completely different concepts. Saying no to a work request, for instance, is better than saying yes or not responding because it would mean dragging someone’s work and wasting their time.Particularly, learning to use the word no can prove to be an effective defense against bullying in school. Bullying is a very common issue faced by students, therefore, it is crucial for parents to teach their young ones the value of a no.

The school bullies often use the power of manipulation to torture their peers, but when a student knows how to call their bluff and not be at their service, they often back-off.Many children who grow-up in hostile households, find it easier to say yes to others’ demands because they fear reprimand and abuse. Therefore, it is equally important to provide growth-conducive living conditions to children from a tender age.Childhood traumas and dysfunctional family dynamics can make one seek approval from all sources possible, making them miserable in the long run.A simple no can be the difference between a healthy, fulfilled life or a distraught, disorganized, and depressing existence. We may not realize the importance of the word no, but teaching our children from the very beginning to be comfortable with the word and its appropriate use can truly boost their self-esteem and make them confident individuals in the long run.

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