Say Yes to No: One of the most empowering words in the world is ‘NO’

Say Yes to No: One of the most empowering words in the world is ‘NO’


Freedom isn’t the ability to accept. It’s the ability to deny. Have you ever felt constrained to accept the will of your elders or close ones? Well, the majority of us do feel the same. It becomes difficult to say NO to one known to us when he/she asks us to get some piece of their work done. It rather becomes a subconscious act not to say NO. This act of us has its roots in our upbringing and conditioning.
The upbringing and the environment make one learn certain reactions and responses when confronted with various situations. The responses are based on the conditioning, either familial or societal, the former being most prominent. This type of conditioning leaves a great and lasting impact on the psyche of an individual for the whole life. And ultimately, it becomes a set routine of how one will interact and react.
Feeling incompetent, shy or restrained in expressing disapproval develops a sense of frustration, oppression, and fear. It even affects our cognition in situations where we need to take a stand against the scenario. The tendency of accepting instead of denying eventually deprives us of our normal reaction to a situation. This, in turn, irritates our innate mechanism of response to the stimulus.
When we consider the right to say NO, it relates to an ‘idea of choice’ in personal affairs and a ‘notion of empowerment’ in public affairs. Though this default tendency of responding in affirmation is more welcoming than the other, it should be noted that parenting styles and situations of life have their repercussions which affect human nature at its core. The use of logic and acting in contrast to the standards of the society to navigate through the uncomfortable and challenging situations should be interpreted as a value of self-care, saving oneself from avoidable regret and discomfort.
With the changing era, the human consciousness has acquired a significant acceptance of power dynamics. Therefore, from family structures to community hierarchies, the sustenance base of these social hubs has narrowed down to more nuclear families and shorter community life. A character trait is the expression of one’s attempt to adjust to the society he/she lives in. An invader sees the world in a different and definite pattern in contrast to that of a peace-maker. The difference in attitude of both toward their environment helps us know about tools, the use of which amounts to a ‘technique’ for survival.
Character traits in contrast to common beliefs are not inherited but acquired from the conscious engagement with the individual’s interpretation of conditions, circumstances or goals. They are seen as the best and easiest way to confront and manoeuvre life’s challenges or goals. They are acquired for the purpose of thriving in complex affairs of life. No solid proof stands in support of the theory of inherited character traits. They are formed much early in life and thus appear to have been inherited, but it isn’t so. We can’t negate the fact that humans are great imitators. They learn their way of life and reactions to situations either by imitating others or through acquired knowledge. The old-school way of child-rearing restricts parental guidance to compulsory obedience, which deters the children from expressing their true thoughts and emotions.
The case of obedience and not expressing refusal is one of the potential shortcomings of orthodox parenting which ultimately makes a person less likely to negate if he/she is asked to do a thing. He/she is bound by his/her acquired traits. Humans are social beings, and so is human character, a ‘social concept’. Thus, it is influenced, shaped and transformed immensely by its environment. And later on, the traits of individual character gear up as an external reflection of the individual’s behaviour and become a way of living.
So, if people in general and the one (whose upbringing has been of compulsory obedience type) in particular are asked to get something done for their close ones, they will reply in affirmation rather than negation. It is their automated response developed through their upbringing in a certain set of conditions and limits, but every time the situation doesn’t have to be the same as they were conditioned to.
Now, the question remains, what is the need for discussion of this tendency in the first place? And then, what is the significance of the same? The word NO comes as discomfort instead of the comfort of YES, but it is one of the most strengthening weapons in the books of words. This replacement with the due course of words has even led to the rise of various exploitative chains and domination in society.
The idea of individuality is generally understood as a concept arising from the western world and is one of the major elements of the liberal schools of thought. This revolution cum realisation is not just for children and youth, but also for those who procrastinate in their actual will. People tend to ignore their way out by just putting real possibilities out of their consideration and so giving an upper hand to ‘what everyone expects’. The outcome of this seems to be a ‘relief’ but in the long term, situations are not even recognised and a typical reaction is chosen. This is once again a deterioration of one’s liberty.
As Jean Jacques Rousseau said, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”. This is manifest when we consider the two aspects of ‘conditionality’ and ‘upbringing’ which are present unconsciously as a deterrent, restricting an individual from exercising his own ‘right to respectfully say NO’. There is no guilt in repudiating the request of others if it does not conform to our satisfaction and comfort.
In the progressive world, it is now time to accept the ‘idea of individuality’ as respectful instead of alien. This includes being an active listener and giving due attention to the other sides of the dice as well. The key to the emancipation of an individual from oppressive submissiveness is acceptance of his/her own will rather than regarding it as an inferior choice. It is true that ‘Tone is the hardest part of saying NO’, therefore the approach should be directed towards a polite but firm disapproval of arbitrary and excessive use of your consent.

Nadeem Qayoom is a volunteer at Peaceful Mind Foundation and can be reached at [email protected]. Shristi Gupta is a graduate of Lady Shri Ram College for Women and can be reached at [email protected]

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