2017: My Year of Saying “No”
Embracing the power of “no” to stand up to the injustices we see around us.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead
I wish I could say “happy new year,” but I have a feeling 2017 will make 2016 look like unicorns pooping rainbows💩🦄. I wish, also, that I could be at least momentarily satisfied with taking inventory of 2016 and the ways it was good to me and mine. Because in many monumental ways, it was. And I am grateful. But in more ways, 2016 felt like a foreshadowing.
Like that time I heard a story of a guy who stayed, even after learning his restaurant had burned down while at Burning Man. I remember wondering what I might do in his shoes, only to get the call a few days later that my NYC apartment was in flames. With a dear friend trapped inside. She survived. We were lucky. Luckier than the 36 souls in Oakland on December 2nd.
To me it feels nihilistic to celebrate when your house (proverbial or literal) is burning. And yet we must. And yet, it is. Burning, I mean. All around us.
I’ve been struggling for weeks to find the positive spin for all the goings on of our world, I’ve even tried to lean on old adages like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or the simple mantra, “we will survive.” Yet I know many of us aren’t any stronger. We are spent, fatigued and barely able to muster enough energy to be angry. What’s more, so many have not survived. My family’s matriarch is one of many losses that my circle of friends and family have endured in just the last 30 days. The list will sadly, continue to grow. And the real heartbreak is that a large number of what’s coming won’t be good deaths, with long, well-lived lives we can eulogize. Whether in Syria, the south side of Chicago or because they happen to be gay and Latino at a dance club in Orlando, innocents will continue to be taken from us and it will be because of injustice and apathy. It will weigh on many of us. And we will run the risk of becoming numb, complacent, or worse, bitter and impotent.
Which brings me, finally, to where I land, today and what I plan to do, moving forward, to stay laser focused on the #longgame, which make no mistake, is what this is. We have to brace ourselves for more short-term failures. The setbacks, local and global, are just getting started. But this violent last gasp of old-world thinking, with all its deadly isms, will not survive in the long run. And to run, and run long, is what is being asked of each of us. This I know, in my bones.
MY YEAR OF NO
In 2017, I will say no more. The idea first came to me preparing for this speech on “negotiation” at last September’s Animus Summit. I was in the lineup with Justice Sotomayor and it was supposed to be titled “getting to yes.” But at the last minute, I decided instead to talk about exercising our no muscle. Basically, it was an invitation to embrace the power of no to once and for all stand up to the injustices we see around us.
Women, I argued, don’t need help getting to yes, we have been saying yes for generations. It’s time we balance the scales and get comfortable with saying no to what doesn’t serve us. No masterpiece, no film, no work of prose has ever existed without the act of editing out what doesn’t work. And in our lives, just as in art, it’s time we do the potentially painful work of editing and pruning in order to show up the way the world needs us to, now more than ever.
For me that means a smaller inner circle of friends and wider sphere of influence. It means saying no to meetings because I feel obligated and prioritizing connections that will make maximum impact. It means understanding that sometimes maximum impact is a walk in the park with my dog. It means playing with children and doing business with adults, not the other way around. It means having a private life that is intimate and discerning, in order to have a public life that is expansive and inclusive.
No one will ever thank you for editing them out of your life or your schedule, quite the opposite. Saying no means getting over that and releasing the need to do work that involves getting thanked. Newsflash, the work of fighting injustice is exhausting and thankless. Saying no to the fantasy that it’s not, is part of what I am committed to in 2017. It also means getting even more organized and expecting those who show up to join me in the trenches of this struggle, to show up woke, educated and ready to organize. Because in the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “those who love peace must organize as effectively as those who love war.”
What Saying NO Looks Like
Last month, saying no meant cancelling an appearance with the Interamerican Development Bank in DC to talk about important geopolitical issues to instead fly home and say goodbye to one of the women who raised me. And it was the best thing I did in 2016. Saying no means sometimes even closing the door to people I love, for a time, because pain can take many shapes and in some cases the only solution is the passage of time. Doors close, other doors open.
Saying no, in a culture that asks women (and only women) asinine questions like “can we have it all?” also means prioritizing self-care. After a lifetime of saying yes, it means putting the oxygen mask on myself first, in order to be there for others. It means being in solitude over the holidays before returning to my decidedly extroverted existence. It means kicking down obstacles and accelerating change, on our terms. It means saying no to false dichotomies of conflict and zero-sum paradigms of winners and losers. It means erasing boxes and being intersectional.
Saying no is rooted in the three things I think we’ll need most in 2017: healthy #boundaries, #resistance and fundamentally, deep #love. Not the flowery hallmark version of love, but the kind of mama-bear love that startles the toddler into NOT sticking his finger in the electric socket with a stern NO!
And yes, you know what toddler 😈 and what socket 🗽 I’m talking about.
That kind of loving fierceness might not sound pretty or look cute, but it gets the job done and that is what’s needed now. Outcomes, not optics. When I think of this as my year of saying no, what comes to mind is the image of Christians standing guard around Muslims praying in Tahrir Square, or Muslims forming a human shield around a synagogue in Norway.
Not everyone is in a position to stand guard, and even the protectors need protecting. But those of us who can, must. And of course, it’s worth repeating that those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. It may not always be a happy new year, but it is OUR new year.
I hope you’ll join me in my year of NO.