For as long as I’ve had people in my life, I’ve been afraid of making them angry. Of conflict. I’ve always been the person who tries to be diplomatic and keep things smooth and peaceful. And lately? Lately I’ve been having to do and say things that actively don’t make people happy. A lot. I’ve been getting the invitation, over and over, to do or say the hard thing. The unpopular thing. Of risking people’s judgement and anger and condemnation. “No.” is one of the hardest, most conflicted things for me, and lately I keep having to say it.
Love the meaningful life lessons, don’t you?
It keeps happening.
Two seemingly unrelated things happened to me this last week though, that oddly helped crystalize the whole thing and how I feel about the word, “No.”
Anecdote the first:
Getting spare changed by a homeless woman on my way to work. For a change, I actually didn’t have any cash to give her and said so. She would. not. stop. pestering. me. SHe asked a few more times. I was in a hurry, busy, thinking about how much I did not want to go to my store and the tone of her voice just snapped something in me. I turned around without thinking and said very firmly, “NO. STOP.” and you know, she did! She said, “Okay.” and moved on.
And here is the thing. It felt amazing. Crystal clear. Peaceful. It was the first time that I can remember not being in conflict about telling someone no. Ever. Maybe in my whole life. Not saying it hasn’t happened before, but I certainly don’t remember it if it has. Not defensive. Not guilty. Not conflicted. Just clearly saying “no.” And so that experience and that feeling, which was liberating and weirdly new, has stuck with me ever since. It was like leveling up. Burning a new neural and behavioral pathway.
Anecdote the second:
The other day I was driving over to Trader Joe’s and decided to take the scenic route. The road runs above and past a large park with trees, wildlife, a stream… as I was driving around the gentle curve of the road, a bird dove across the road, right in front of my windshield and down into the trees. It was some kind of raptor, maybe a falcon or a small hawk, and I’m just sure something small and furry was on the other end of that dive. I was struck by the grace and precision of the bird, by the total commitment to action. The dive was so purposeful. No conflict.
(Photo by Ian Blacker, some rights reserved, using under Creative Commons)
And so there it was. A visual representation of the feeling I’d been thinking about ever since last Saturday. That’s what saying no looks like when you are not in conflict.
And ever since then, it has been easier to say no and set or maintain appropriate boundaries. From declining an invitation to socialize to telling someone “No you may not treat me this way.”, there have been many opportunities to be purposeful, unconflicted and clear.
Saying “no.” is a powerful action. Maybe one of the most liberating actions you can take if you’re really feeling it. Why do you think two year olds are so crazy about it? Phenomenal cosmic power. Itty bitty living space.
I keep seeing that raptor on my daily drive. I think it may be nesting near the park. You know, just doing what raptors do. Hunting small furry things, raising more fluffy baby raptors, like ya do. But in the Rorschach Test of my life, that’s the picture I have assigned to it. My own personal symbol of Zero Conflict, Just Say No.
It gets easier.
5/19 ETA: Alexandra Franzen makes me a really happy camper with her bloggy goodness. A few days after I wrote this, her article for HuffPo landed in my inbox. How to Say ‘No’ to Everything Ever: A Universal Script for… Well, Everything Ever.
Exactly. What she said. Just go do that like a badass soaring, flying, feathery thing.