I have an extremely difficult time saying no. This is not an intimate phenomena, others do as well, which makes it a ripe subject for musing upon. However, I've often wondered why it seems so hard for me, personally, to tell Mr. or Ms. Whosit, "No, thank you" or "No, I don't have time for that" or "No that doesn't interest me." When faced with a "yes or no" ultimatum, I usually choose the affirmative, even when I don't feel inclined to do what I was asked.
I connected intimately to the movie Yes Man with Jim Carrey. If you haven't seen it, you're not particularly missing out. I'm not saying it was the best movie in existence, I just related to it. Jim Carrey wants to live a fuller life, so he attends a cult-like convention led by a man whose slogan is "Yes is the new no" or something similar. The idea is that Carrey was convinced to say "yes" to life, and , at first, had a lot of fun adventures. But what I connected to were not the fun things Jim Carrey learns to do when he says "yes" (playing the guitar, joining a bike riding group, falling in love, etc.), but the life altering bad mistakes he walks into when he says "yes" (saying yes to moving in with a woman he just met). I've been to that point, many many times, where I wanted to say "no," but fought with logic, said "yes" and bitterly regretted it.
I later attended a hilarious book reading by David Sedaris, who stated that he often says "yes" when a person approaches him with an interesting option. He gave the example of letting a woman who attended a reading take a benign tumor out of his body, so he could keep it (which his own doctor said he could not legally allow Mr. Sedaris to keep). It was a great story. And I, as a writer, appreciate the value of finding great stories. Sedaris claims that a lot of his greatest stories come from saying "yes," which intrigues me. I mean, a lot of my greatest, funniest, saddest and most powerful stories are me saying "yes" to something and dealing with the run-off of that word.
Are the stories I can tell about misusing "yes" amusing afterwards? Most of them are, to those not directly participating in the decision. Some are hilarious to all involved. But many of them just make my friends and family shake their heads. For instance, I shouldn't have said "yes" to my cousin's childhood ventures in cooking chicken when I was young. Under cooked chicken is always a bad idea, even if you don't want to hurt your best friends's feelings. Alas, when it came to explosive vomiting or hurting her feelings, I chose explosive vomiting, which I knew was coming. And I always ask myself after such vomit filled (over drinking happens a lot when you're a "yes" person) or regret filled sessions, "Why didn't you just say 'no,' you idiot!"
After much musing, I've come to a few reasons I might be susceptible to saying "yes" when it's not good for me. Firstly, I like a lot of people. Or, more appropriately, I'm a social chameleon. I know what people want, and I like to make people happy because I generally like most people or can, at least, be empathetic towards most people. In sales and negotiation, as my husband the lawyer often reminds me, likable people tend to get what they want. So what happens when you are more inclined to like or be empathetic towards those you meet? You are more willing to say "yes" when they need your help. This makes me fairly popular, but also makes me a bit of doormat for random acquaintances, who probably understand that about me.
This next reason might piss some people off, but I'm pretty sure I'm more willing to say "yes" to people because I'm a woman. Business News Daily writer Chad Brooks wrote a wonderful article on women in the workplace and their propensity for saying "yes" more frequently than men. His sources, "found that women feel a stronger sense of guilt than men do, and generally feel bad, when they say 'no' (businessnewsdaily.com)." The studies done by Katherine O'Brien for her postdoctoral thesis, found that women more often went out of their way to prove that they were valuable assets to the company and team players, and, thus, said "yes" more often.
But I'm a woman, so I understand this to be true on a visceral level. I remember, in my M.A. program, saying "yes" or agreeing to study or write about something in order to prove my worth as a female student, my ability to write about Shakespeare or Chaucer or Melville as well or better than my male counterparts. I remember being frustrated that no matter how well I did in class, some male professors and students would still cut me off and "explain" to me how I was wrong on subjects I had intimate knowledge with: I.E. gendered theories in literature and higher education. I have been, repeatedly, talked into taking job assignments through out my various careers, things I could do very well but was not interested in. Probably because I feel the pressure many women feel to prove my worth in a society that undervalues, underpays and ignores the value of a woman based on her individual merit rather than her gender.
Perhaps most personally, I think I lean towards "yes" because I am often in a hypomanic state, as a bi-polar person. I am, more often than not, in a hypomanic state for long periods between normal or depressive states. And as Mentalhelp.net explains, hypomania leads to "sharpened intellect and ability to function with little sleep [which] contributes to hypomanic individuals' increased productivity compared to non-manic people." In my hypomanic state, I often feel as though I could do anything and could do it well or better than most. Does this sound a bit self righteous? Well, it is. Another side effect of hypomania is a "inflated or expansive and even grandiose sense of self" (mentalhelp.net). I can DO ANYTHING, and I often try to. Being hypomanic also leads me to hate the fact that I said "yes" to so many things because I can't stop doing them. My anxious, shaking body, full of relentless energy, has to find an outlet, and that outlet is often used to please others by picking up menial tasks any person could do and feeling as though if I don't do them the world might crumble.
Maybe these points are valid for me personally. Maybe other frustrated "yes" men or women will find themselves in my folds. But what does it matter, if we still feel frustratingly inclined to say "yes" to every person who wants us to? And every person we meets has a need they want fulfilled. That's not necessarily a bad thing. You probably do the same thing to others. Humans are unique and amazing in the psychological reliance we crave from our fellow species.
It matters because it makes life more difficult than it needs to be. Saying "yes" is not a bad thing. I'm married to a wonderful person because I took a chance and said "yes." I have two beautiful kids, even though I was nervous about being a bi-polar mother because I said "yes." I have a multitude of fun hobbies and careers because I said "yes" to learning something new: weaving, knitting, singing, drawing, playing the spoons, teaching, baking, top notch canoe pulling, boat making, writing fiction, writing poetry, hiking, running, public speaking, writing for academic journals, trained editorial experience, and a working knowledge on social networking and website/video creation. These are all skills that I was afraid to pursue, afraid to fail at, but went for because of my propensity for "yes." But all of these things are also things I wanted to do, deep down.
Being a mother, more than anything, has taught me the value of sometimes disappointing my fellow human beings, saying "no" when it's good for me and for the people I love most: my children and family. I don't want to say "yes" to things that will harm my babies, like too much candy or junk food, or over indulging in TV or just getting everything they want. Saying "no" is often necessary, as a parent who loves her children and wants them to be intelligent, thinking, feeling beings. But beyond saying "no" to my babies, I'm more willing to say "no" to endeavors that will take my time and efforts away from them, and, ultimately, make me grumpy or unhappy, which effects the entire family.
That doesn't mean I don't say "yes" more than others. I'm still irritatingly productive an extremely guilt ridden, but it does mean that I'm working to manage my manic womanhood. And I hope, dear readers, that you can all learn to balance the happiness of people you love with your own well being and happiness. I do think this is a struggle many in our society deal with, and I hope that those of you for whom a cord was touched truly give yourselves an honest evaluation, and take time to prioritize your "yesses." Mania for the day: managed.
H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.