Friday, August 10, 2012

"'Yes' And 'No'"

Recently, somebody I really like asked if I would volunteer to do something.  Originally, assenting to the request was not possible as I was scheduled to be out of town at the time the activity was scheduled to take place.  It was the perfect excuse. 

I did not have to say, “I don’t want to do that”, or the more polite version, “Thank you for asking, but I’d prefer not to do that.”  I did not have to pretend that I wanted to do something when I didn’t.  I just stuck with the facts.  I said, “I’ll be somewhere else”, and I left it at that.

As they said in Terms of Endearment, “I was ‘this close’ to a clean getaway.”

Why “this close”?  Because, as it turns out, my plans were altered and I was now unequivocally available.  Realistically, this did not insure my participation, as I could easily have adhered to the original understanding.  It is unlikely that the requester would ever have found out I would not be out of town.  Unfortunately, however, I found myself unable to leave her with this misimpression, this “retrospective falsehood” as it were,

Because she was a person I really like. 

I suppose I could have informed her that I was now available but I still didn’t want to do it.  But that’s not something I’d feel comfortable saying to somebody I really like.  Or anyone, for that matter. 

“Remember when you asked me if I’d do something and I told you I’d be out of town?  Well, it turns out I will not be out of town but I’m still not going to do it.  By the way, do you want to have lunch sometime?”

It is possible to be too honest, and the foregoing may be a prime example of that.

Regardless of whether she was aware of it, I knew I was now available.  And that a person I really like wanted me to do something.  I had no choice in the matter.

I e-mailed the person I really like, and I told her I would do it.

Did I regret saying “Yes.”  No.  I felt free of secrets from a person I really like, allowing me to engage with future interactions with her without guilty eyes, which are easy to misinterpret, especially if you’re in the dark about the actual source of the guilt.  Complications might readily ensue.  And now they won’t.

My concern emanates from the “Yes” decision itself.  Saying “Yes” is a Door Opener to the Unknown.  Saying “No” is a comforting “Case closed.”

Saying “No” has its liabilities.  You appear negative, unfriendly, resistant to opportunity, thus generating a reputation, leading to a receding number of invitations to do anything. 

You may also be saying “No” to something you might ultimately enjoy, triggering twinges of regret for your decision.  And there’s the “collateral regret” of letting a person you really like down, even though you to some degree resent them for putting you in that position, though you’d resent them substantially more if you hated them. 

Such is the price of saying “No.”

The price of saying “Yes”?  Well, it depends on who you are. 

The “down-side” of “Yes” will make little sense to someone who’s in the habit of saying “Yes”, even to the unlikeliest of proposals:

NASA TO NEIL ARMSTRONG 1969:  Would you like to go to the moon?


In contrast to:

NASA TO EARL POMERANTZ, AT ANY TIME YOU CARE TO MENTION:  Would you like to go to the moon?

EARL POMERANTZ:  What are you talking about?

Though in my case, it does not have to be that extreme:

A POTENTIAL EMPLOYER:  Would you like to try something you have never done before?

EARL:  No, thanks.  (Generally expressed as, “I would rather keep doing what I’m doing.”) 

There’s this concept I learned about once called homeostasis.  Homeostasis refers to a sense of stability resulting from maintaining conditions as you are habitually used to them being.  That’s your “comfort zone.”  That’s your “business as usual.”  A deviation from that homeostatic “normalness” makes some of us humans feel unbalanced and discombobulated. 

That’s why we say “No” to things.  We value our homeostasis.

Other people are less troubled by this disequilibrium.  And they end up walking on the moon.

Such extra-homeostatic accomplishments explain why people who say “Yes” are more highly regarded than people who say “No”, which I have no problem with, because they are willing to take the risk.  I will only add one observation.  It may not even be true.  But it does help me feel better, so indulge me.

Individuals are a “package deal.”  Using the proverbial sweater/painting analogy, you cannot pull out one thread without altering the entire picture.  It’s all or nothing.  And I’m suggesting that this is not such a terrible thing. 

In the intricate arrangement that makes us who we are, the characteristics all work together.  Yes, the “No” person misses out on things, and is consequently narrow in experience.  But a “Yes” person may sometimes say “Yes” to things they’d be better off saying “No” to. 

“Do you want to rob a bank with me?”


Also, “Yes” people may be so minutely focused on their laudable accomplishments that they are too buy to notice fascinating things that the “No” person, with ample time on their hands, observes as a matter of course.  And then writes about them.

I am not arguing that saying “No” is better than saying “Yes”, or that it’s equally as good.

I’m just saying there are unacknowledged pluses.

Do you agree?

Yes or no?


Keith said...

There's one solution that I'm surprised you didn't consider: You could have still gone out of town.

Anonymous said...

I agree, but would also add that without the No people, the Yes people wouldn't appear so "windswept and interesting(stealing a line from Billy Connolly there).

It's like very fit, atheletic good looking people, without overweight people, not so good looking people, they wouldn't look as good :)