What do I really mean when I say ‘no’?

Since I started paying attention to this whole issue of assertiveness and guilt, I caught myself unable to say ‘no’ (or ‘yes’) on three occasions today. It made me wonder why I seem to have a compelling need to come out on one side or the other, and to have a problem with just being undecided. Manuel Smith’s sixth assertive right reads, ‘You have the right to say “I don’t know”‘.

In the first instance this morning, I was asked by a colleague (let’s call him A) if I wanted to meet for drinks this weekend. I hedged. But my instinct was, ‘I don’t know’. I wasn’t averse to it, but I wasn’t sure I was for it either. So I ended up muttering something and walking away, then feeling guilty later in the afternoon, I felt compelled to bring it up and apologise for it. I ended up agreeing to meet on Saturday, but with the proviso in my mind that I’d have a few more days to call and cancel if I didn’t feel up to it (of course, inducing more guilt later on). Good grief, why do I tie myself into these knots? I have a feeling if I can crack this mystery, a lot of other issues in my life will fall into place. But grade for assertiveness this morning? D-.

Then at the end of the day, when I was just packing up to go home, a second colleague walked in to ask if I wanted to attend a 20 minute film he was screening. Now the answer to that was definitely ‘no’, but some little voice in my head said ‘But why not? It’s just 20 minutes. Can’t hurt.’ And I did believe at the time that it couldn’t hurt. I said I’d be over in a minute. Of course I ended up not going, and scribbled another note of apology and stuck it on his door saying, ‘Sorry, bus to catch.’ I think my meditation mantra for next week might have to be ‘You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses to justify your behavior’. The trouble is I’m not so much concerned with producing reasons for other people as for myself. I couldn’t give myself a reason not to be there apart from the fact that I didn’t want to.

The third incident occurred at my weekly meditation group this evening. One member (let’s call her B) asked me if I wanted to join a group of friends who were meeting on Saturday to celebrate International Women’s Day (today, incidentally; 8th March). This time my instinct was actually ‘yes’, but I got myself into a different set of knots to do with what do I tell A now? So I said to B, ‘maybe, I’ll let you know’. I felt compelled to stick to the decision I made about A even though that was lukewarm in the first place. During the evening sitting though, I suddenly recalled Assertive Right No. 4: ‘You have the right to change your mind.’ Ha! So I did. I told B, yes I’d like to come, sent A a message saying I was busy (but I did cop out and say I was free on Sunday).

If all this sounds profoundly convoluted, it is. I don’t really know why I do it. In psychological terms, one could argue it has to do with low self-esteem, an unwillingness to think myself important enough for my opinion to matter to other people, but I don’t think that is the case. I think it has more to do with the way my mind processes choices, possibilities and realities. For you astrology types, I have a Gemini mind — it actually processes alternatives as simultaneous moments, all equally valid and justifiable. A bit like being at Douglas Adams’ restaurant at the end of the universe. ‘Yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ are all simultaneous realities/possibilities. It’s not so much indecision as unwillingness to privilege one reality over another. And the curiosity of the Gemini mind wants to take one and see where it goes, then pick the next and see where that goes. (In the days of the Choose Your Own Adventure novels, you can trust me to have explored every option in every permutation.) The only trouble is, the physical body seems capable of existing only in one reality at a time. (I haven’t ruled out the possibility of travelling between realities!)

Wow. When I started this post I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up, but now that I’ve actually articulated that, I think what I really need to rehearse is Assertive Right No. 8: ‘You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.’

That’s one thing I’ve never been able to abide — being illogical. I think that’s my practice for this week — allow myself to be illogical. I think I may end up being out on both days on the weekend though. It’s not so illogical not turning down a free drink, is it? If that sounds logically illogical, it’s a start.

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2 Responses to What do I really mean when I say ‘no’?

  1. I too have a hard time saying “no” and it is one of the things I am working on the most. Thank-you for sharing. You are not alone.

  2. hitchhiker72 says:

    Hi buddhist blogger,

    Thanks! That’s one of the reasons I blog, even if no one reads it. But nice to know some people do!

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