How to Say No to Anyone
And stand alone against the many
By MARTIN REZNY (based on a suggestion by richardmarkherd)
As someone whose natural instinct is to help everyone with everything, I had to learn the hard way that sometimes, the right and best thing to do is to do nothing at all. In this essay, however, I’d like to talk about much more than the relatively trivial trappings of selflessness. The worst part about always agreeing to do what others want of you is not the time you lose because of it, not the stifling of others’ growth and ability to take care of their own problems, not even being taken advantage of. It’s something worse.
Others are probably bad and/or ignorant people who want wrong things.
Before you start congratulating yourself, you should know that you’re likely one of those people too. This essay is not meant to boost anyone’s ego or applaud narcissism. On the off chance, a slim one, that you’re actually one of the minority of people with at least a promise of integrity, knowledge, and ability, you may benefit from a better understanding of how saying no works.
Of course, I don’t know you at all. Do you?
Who Are You?
In case you’re not familiar with the show, the clips I will be using in this article to illustrate certain problems all come from Babylon 5. It’s like Star Trek, just realistic. The whole show is about the issue of individuals fighting against forces greater than themselves, and largely succeeding. There are two key questions repeated in it over and over by the representatives of those higher powers, and the first one is simply “Who are you?” Well, do you really know?
Because if you don’t have a satisfactory and thorough answer to this question based solely on ideas and attributes coming from inside of yourself, you have no basis for any resistance to outside forces. If, like Delenn in the clip above, all you can come up with are names, titles, functions, or genealogies, you have no identity that is your own. In case you were wondering who the man is, it’s the Inquisitor, whose job it is to determine what kind of person someone is.
You should imagine that you’re being interrogated by such inquisitor, and in your mind, prepare a defense. Even though you will most likely never meet an actual inquisitor, almost certainly not an honest and competent one, you will end up in situations in which you will be required to defend yourself against others. Even if those others will not be interested in your answers at all, for your own benefit, you need to have them. If you lose, you lose to yourself.
To go on the offensive, a different answer to a different question is needed:
What Do You Want?
It could be absolutely anything, couldn’t it? That’s both the most exciting and the most terrifying thing about it. If you’re clueless about what it is that you want, then you might as well surrender to others puppeteering your life right away. Rest assured that the people in charge of things, as well as the people trying to control other people, and really anyone who wants you to do things, or not to do things, are all people who know exactly what it is that they want.
It doesn’t have to be any specific object or end result, it may just be the sensation of having power over someone else, or some sort of twisted sadistic pleasure derived from just ruining things, and your life. It may be something noble and constructive, but it is entirely possible that what’s good and right for other people is not good and right for you. After all, life is a struggle, and there’s not enough of most things for everyone. Certainly not power, or love.
What you want may not be pretty, and it’s almost guaranteed to be selfish, in some way at least, but it’s essential to know it. Let’s be clear, you don’t have to act on it at all, it may be a bunch of contradictory stuff, but it is something you must acknowledge to yourself. If you don’t acknowledge it, it can be more easily used to manipulate you, or you can more easily end up betraying yourself. Whatever it ends up being, knowledge of it will give you power.
And you’re gonna need all your power and integrity to say no when it counts.
Every Time I Say No
If you know who you are, and you know what you want, you will know when it’s necessary to say no. Well, just to be on the safe side, here are some pointers anyway. Saying no is not about being some sort of hipster. Popular things can be wholesome and right, or at least they can be lesser evils to all other available alternatives. Unless you’re prepared to die very fast, you can’t just unplug yourself from the system and isolate yourself from all humans.
It’s in many respects unfortunate, but yeah, humans are social animals. Most of the time, we have families, and friends, and loved ones, and colleagues. On the bright side, some of those you even get to choose. Society is also needed, if you like things like roads, pizzas, or the internet. Saying no is not about being anti-social, or inhuman, it’s about being anti-bullshit, and non-evil. But if the society in which you live becomes a totalitarian nightmare, shit gets serious.
Saying no is about resisting other individuals when they try to rope you into something immoral, retarded, or outright criminal, and the society when it tries to do something massively wrong. It may mean not becoming a member of the ruling party. It may mean refusing to fight in a war. It may mean quitting or avoiding an unethical job even if it makes you go broke. It means accepting harmful consequences and stigma rather than complying with evil.
Because it’s up to you to decide what’s right and wrong, not others.
But don’t expect a medal or anything.
The Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time
I guess it deserves to be mentioned that you’re not supposed to be doing any of this for a reward. Saying no when it matters can be extremely unpleasant. It can ruin your life, alienate people around you, end up with a beating, the list goes on. It’s really not surprising once you realize what you may be saying no to. Some of the important nos of your life could be leaving a church, coming out as gay, divorcing a spouse, standing in the way of approaching soldiers.
I’m thankful that most of the hard choices in my life so far have not exactly been life or death situations, but there were a few that did hurt, and it sure doesn’t look like anything is gonna get any easier in the future. I won’t go into any detail, not really because any of it is a secret, but because I wasn’t making those choices in hopes of being able to brag about them later. Not because of sympathy either, or a pat on the back. For all you know, I suck.
All I know is that to a substantial degree, who I am is not shaped by what I’ve been taught, and it never has been. It would be absurd to assume that I’m the only person who’s like that. It is my deeply held belief that our society and our culture is more a reflection of what’s inside of human mind than the other way around, for better and for worse. The reason why they suck so much is likely the fact that evil people face little resistance. Say no, save the world.
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