Learning to Say “No” Without an Explanation

No is a complete sentence

I had this section in my Bullet Journal that I absolutely love. It’s about three and a half pages of graph paper with Washi-tape sectioned off squares and rectangles—it’s my quote page. In the tiniest of squares is one of my favorite quotes that I keep having to go back to time and time again, especially during seasons when I get caught up in the people-pleasing hamster wheel.  The quote reads:

“No.’ is a complete sentence.”

I’m not sure who first said this, but many have taken this concept to heart, and I am one of them.

For a long time I struggled with feeling like I always had to explain myself.

Many times these explanations came off as lame excuses. “I’m so sorry I’m late to lecture; I my roommate locked me out of my dorm this morning when I got back from my run.” 

Many times these explanations actually included very helpful information. “I won’t be able to make it to your baby shower because my father-in-law’s funeral is that same day. I wish I could be in two places at once.”

But sometimes these explanations were unnecessary and were born out of a desire to tell people what they wanted to hear when I couldn’t give them what they really wanted. 

If they wanted time, money, or really anything else from me, but, for whatever reason, I could not give it to them, I felt like I needed to explain why. If my choices went against what someone else would have chosen for their life, I felt like I needed to justify my decision. If I even got a whiff of disapproval from pretty much anyone, I felt like I needed to go into all the details so that maybe–just maybe– they would understand and not be disappointed in me.

All in all, these tugs to explain myself were coming from a place of not believing in who I was or what I was doing with my life. I needed validation from others to feel like I was worthwhile or that my decisions were “good” ones.

But I have come to realize that “no” truly is a complete sentence. And while sometimes further words are needed for the sake of sensitivity and comprehension, the idea behind this quote, for me, is that I am allowed to do what’s best for myself and my family and my life without needing everyone else to approve or even understand.

We all desperately want a fulfilling life. Yet the more we fill it with things—items, busyness, worry, unnecessary commitments, debt, pressure, stress, people-pleasing–the more cluttered and unfocused and empty it becomes. We have to say “no” to these things.

Explaining myself was one of those things that was emptying me. It left me feeling like I could never please the people in my life. It left me feeling unsure about my choice to say “no”. It left me comparing myself to other people’s schedules and commitments and lives in general. I wasn’t confident in my choices. I wasn’t sure of myself. I didn’t stand my ground in what was best for me or what I knew I needed to do, despite what anyone else wanted.

There are times when we need to sacrifice and say “yes” when we don’t want to. There are times when saying “yes” is joyfully easy.

There are times when saying “no” is the hardest thing we have to do, and there are times when we say it as a knee-jerk reaction. Most of the time, it’s hard. Even if we really don’t want to do something, often the pressure to say “yes” makes saying “no” difficult. But after we do the hard work of saying “no”, we need to be okay with that choice.  We need to know that we don’t owe anyone an explanation if it comes from a place of pressure and people-pleasing.

We can say “no”.

We can let people think what they want about it.

We can know in our truest selves that we made the right choice.

And then we can have room to say “yes” to something even better.

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On Unkindness and Cowardice and How Truth is Essential to Defeat Both

white and pink flowerson a book beside eyeglasses

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I am not the kindest person I know.

I am sometimes socially shy to the point of rudeness; there are moments when I value my own comfort over making others feel comfortable; I can be extremely harsh and judgmental, to my own self as well as to everyone else; I often have mean thoughts about other people that pop into my head.

I share this with you all today lest you think this post is coming from a “holier than thou” place. It’s not. I’m a pretty mean person sometimes. I think we all can be.

I recently went to a wedding this past year that was beautiful. The ceremony was heartwarming, the music was fun, the food was tasty, and the decor was gorgeous.

But the people… the people were mean.

No, not the bride and groom… I’m talking about their guests, whom I was one of.

There were countless times at the wedding where the guests made a snide remark about the wedding itself, or even the bride herself, or the way they chose to order the events. Overall, I got a sense of extreme judgment going on, and it was very unkind.

Being a pretty mean person myself, this still baffled me.

Why on earth would you attend a wedding where you didn’t love and support the couple getting married? Why in the world would you expect someone’s wedding to entertain YOU rather than be the bride and groom’s special day? Why, oh why, turn the happiest day of these people’s lives into a haughty evaluation session of their clothes, taste in music, wedding budget, and food choice?

I was astounded at the unkindness I saw from the so-called “guests” at this wedding.

I know that in American middle-class society, there is are norms of what a wedding should be. Sure, there are subcategories of style and location and theme, but there are some expectations about what happens at a wedding these days. I don’t know if I was ever aware of this before I got married myself, and I know that many of these key expectations were not present, or were dramatically altered at my own wedding.

So, self-centeredly, the unkind guests at this wedding, an event which I thought to be pretty standard with societal norms, made me wonder what on earth was said about my own wedding, and my own choices for one of the biggest moments of my life.

Was my choice to walk down the aisle in sunglasses to Hall and Oates’ “You make my dreams come true” scoffed at? Did people roll their eyes when the guests were asked to move chairs from the wedding location a few yards to the reception tables? What about the buffet of Hy-Vee catering– did people turn their noses up at it all? Was the dollar dance seen as cheap? Was our music contemporary and trendy enough? Did people think a dry wedding reception was lame?

I’m so glad that I didn’t think about these things the day of my wedding. I was too focused on becoming Mrs. Florine, and how grateful I was for all the things I wanted my wedding to be. What others wanted my wedding to be didn’t really enter my head. Maybe that was another sign of my self-centeredness, but if you ask me, that’s the way it should be for the bride on her wedding day.

A wedding is about two people getting married. 

It’s not about how fancy or expensive things are or even how smoothly everything goes. And while I think it also should be a fun party for the guests, I really think a wedding should be whatever the heck the bride and groom want it to be, and the guests can deal. It’s not about them. 

But regardless of what you believe a wedding should be like, I have to wonder how being kind plays into the lives of these guests I keep referring to.

As I stated earlier, I am far from the kindest person I know. But this is something I am not content to sit in.

I hate my unkindness. I hate my selfishness. I hate when my reflex is to be mean or judgmental or harsh, even if it’s behind someone’s back. No–especially if it’s behind someone’s back, because that means I don’t even have the spine to tell someone to their face that I think a certain way about them (which usually would imply that the way I think is cruel).

Or there is another option. Perhaps I don’t tell them something to their face because I’m too much of a coward to do so. Even as I write these words, I think there might be fear behind much of this blog post. Fear that stops me from telling these guests to their face that their comments are unkind and rude and downright mean.

Sharing the truth isn’t easy, and often we don’t get rewarded for it. Perhaps this is why we even have the temptation to gossip or talk poorly about someone behind their back: because telling someone something negative to their face is hardly ever appreciated, even if the comment is true or warranted.

The comments that these guests made were not warranted, and most of them weren’t true at all. They were just cruel evaluations and harsh opinions.

But here on this blog, where I evaluate these wedding guests and share my own opinions, harsh or not…. is it really much better?

While I refused to participate or even listen long to the gossip I heard, and while I didn’t make a cruel remark myself, I certainly didn’t call out these people for their unkind behavior.

I’m doing it now… behind the shield of a semi-ambiguous blog post.

And it’s now that I realize that truth has a huge part to play in the remedy of both unkindness and cowardice, two things I think we all struggle with from time to time if not everyday of our lives.

When we are unkind, the truth is we are often just masking an insecurity we are feeling. We do this by putting another person down. It makes us feel elevated ourselves because “at least we’re not like so-and-so”. Or sometimes it’s because we are masking a deep wound that we feel from the other person’s actions, and instead of addressing the hurt, the sadness, or the betrayal, we simply lash out at them and are either unkind to their face, or behind their back. Covering up these truths only makes the wound deeper, and the insecurity’s power over us stronger. It does no one any favors.

When we are cowardly, we hide from the truth that needs to be exposed, either in our lives, or in the lives others. We refuse to look at our own mess in the light and shy away from facing our fears. And we won’t speak up when someone else is being oppressed or abused or even just gossiped about because it means confronting someone else’s unkindness and potentially alienating ourselves, or becoming the brunt of more unkindness. Refusing to act out of cowardice hides the truth and allows others to become victims. It makes us into guilty bystanders instead of advocates for the less powerful. It also does no one any favors.

I am guilty of both unkindness and cowardice.

And so are you.

We all are.

To be kind means to speak the truth in love. This is also what it means to be courageous. 

To the bride and groom: I truly hope your day was everything you dreamed it would be. You both looked beautiful and the whole day was so special. I’m extremely happy for you both.

To the guests at their wedding: I truly hope that your unkind behavior is exposed to you in some way so that you can examine the root of either your insecurity or your hurt. And I truly apologize about not being courageous enough to speak truth to you at the time. While you may have been offended in the moment, I know that it’s my responsibility to be honest and loving and kind, and part of that means saying things that are uncomfortable but true.

This blog post is an attempt at sharing truth, feeble and untimely though it may be. I should have said something simple, kind, and true in the moment, and not allowed my cowardice to stop my mouth in the face of someone else’s unkindness.

I will try to do better next time, as I hope we all will.