The Gift of No

A friend, who is a divorced Catholic, told me of having to leave a social gathering because she got so agitated when she realized one of the men was “working up the courage” to ask her out. “I didn’t know what to say to him,” she said. “I’m just not interested in dating.” I joked with her, “Let me teach you a two letter word to handle situations like that — NO. You can add ‘thank you’ but that is optional.”

I have been thinking about that on and off all week — about my own difficulties saying “No” (with or without the thank you) when I am asked to do something. A difficulty shared by many women and, maybe, especially by many older women in denominations like the Catholic Church.

And here was my personal insight this morning: The ability to say No is a gift that we give to others. It frees others to ask us without worrying that they will be imposing. I think of my friend and how careful I am about what I ask her to do because she will not say No unless it is literally physically impossible for her and even then she will apologize repeatedly and feel badly. So that shifts the burden of judging the appropriateness of a request to me.

Exercising the right and ability to say No is not just a matter of personal liberty (although it is most assuredly that), it is also a great and good gift that we give to others.

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