Recently, I bumped into a friend near my house. After the initial pleasantries, he dropped a bomb. “Listen, why don’t we go to your place and watch the India-Pakistan cricket match tonight?”
Actually all I wanted to do that evening was go home and crash as I had a late night the previous day. And secondly I did not enjoy cricket. But me being me, I did not have the heart to say no.
Needless to say, I suffered another late night labouring through the match while nodding to my friend’s laboured jokes even as my eyes were dropping (drooping?) dead. I cursed myself over and over again for not saying ‘no’. But then, when had I ever said ‘yes’ in my life?
That, my friends, has pretty much been the story of my life. Ever since I could remember, I have never been able to say ‘NO’ to friends or family; office colleagues trying to push more work on me; the guy trying to wrestle past me at a game or a concert; or even the everyday grocery delivery boy. Somehow, by the time the roaring ‘NO’ that had emanated from the depths of my being makes its way to my vocal chords, it peters out into a whimper and the tigerish ‘No’ only ends up being a pussyfooted, ‘Yes’.
In my defence, I can quote experts who say it is only human nature to say yes as a means of showing courtesy and politeness to people. The word “no”, they say has always been associated with rudeness. And then there is always a feeling of guilt. But they never told us about the heavy price we pay while overcommitting our time, effort, money and energy. Why, this inability to say ‘No’ has even led to one of the biggest tragedies in my life!
Having said that, I must admit I did manage to say ‘No’ once.
This was during my early days in a newspaper in then Bombay, India. Those days, burning with the fire of youth, I was battling my inner demons about this ‘No’ business. One day I finally decided to break the shackles after reading an inspirational article on why one must learn to say ‘No’.
Brimming with confidence I set out into the big bad world the next day.
On the way to office I was accosted by a young salesgirl pitching a credit card of a bank. She had tremendous persuasive powers (and she was pretty). On any other day I would have fallen for her guiles and ended up with a credit card or two I never needed in my life.
But today was different.
“I don’t need any credit card,” I said firmly. It worked like magic. She almost respectfully gave way as if to signal that I had finally arrived in life.
I walked away like a victorious king after a war. On reaching the office, as I was making my way to my desk, the news editor approached me.
“Ivan, I want you to handle the business pages for a week as the other sub-editor has gone on leave,” he said nonchalantly and walked away.
Business was something I had never had any business with and maybe it was the book or the salesgirl, but before I realised it, I found myself saying: “No. I don’t want to do business” to my boss.
I saw the editor stop in his tracks. “What?” he said in an incredulous tone as if to ask: “You dare to refuse me?”
But I stood my ground and stared back fiercely. He probably realised in that moment that I was ready to even quit my job than concede an inch.
His tone suddenly softened, as he came towards me and put his arm around me, saying: “Listen, you are one of our most honest and hard-working journalists and I could not think of anyone else to handle this section.
“The newspaper needs you,” he added, like one of those infamously loud anchors you see on Indian TV.
The conman sure knew my soft spot. In no time, those words of praise (false or otherwise), had me melting like wax on an altar (of sacrifice?).
Needless to say, I ended up agreeing. As the editor walked away triumphantly, I flopped back into my seat. It dawned on me then and there, that I would never be among the fortunate few who know how it feels to sometimes say ‘No’ in life.