Suburban Snapshots

It's Always an Offer I
Can't Refuse

Monday, December 05, 2011

If you know how to look someone in the eye who you're not married to and haven't birthed, and say unequivocally, firmly, and definitively, "no" then I think a lot of us would like to learn your technique.

Why is it so hard, that little two-letter word? It's probably the most danced around, over-explained little one-syllable word in the vernacular.

A few weeks ago I got a handful emails from different friends, each asking for what really were small favors: a quick photo, some editing, a proof-read, a little Photoshop. I agreed to each request because I love these people and could manage to make the time, and because I value having the skills to help.

It's in all of us, the need to feel useful, the satisfaction of being appreciated, not wanting to disappoint the people we care about. In the meantime, Steve noticed that I was on the computer later than usual, and in his very practical way of looking out for me he said, "Why didn't you just say 'no'?"

He may as well have given me that piece of advice in Mandarin. Just say no? DOES NOT COMPUTE. Often we begrudgingly say yes to someone — a neighbor who needs computer help or the friend with the horrible toddler whose babysitter canceled — we submit because it's just easier than saying no, or because we can't think of a good excuse fast enough, or sometimes because the excuse makes us feel guilty.

We do it out of diplomacy, sometimes we do it because we really want to help and realize too late that we've taken on too much — say, six batches into a thirty-batch preschool snickerdoodle fundraiser. Sometimes there are just certain people we can't refuse.

Maybe it all balances out — I'm sure I've been on the other end of the ask, needing a favor from a friend whose schedule was already keeping him at work too late or a ride from someone who wasn't headed in my direction. Maybe the satisfaction of being able to help is compensation for the sacrifices we make to squeeze in just one more task before bed.

Are you any good at no?

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