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The most difficult word we can learn

The most difficult word we can learn


不要 , 没有, 不喜欢 , 不行, 不对.

While learning Mandarin, I was fascinated when I discovered that there is no word to simply say “NO”! There were plenty options like those mentioned above which translate into not want, not have, not like, not okay and not right.

I hate saying NO. I struggle with it. 

To me, those simple two letters that appear successively in the alphabet, are usually the most difficult ones to pronounce even though the intention is fully set from the heart. 

How hard can it be to say “no”? Well, turns out it’s the kind of hard when the rage you feel towards your parents remains unvoiced and you fail at telling them that your life is yours and there are some decisions you must take on your own. Or it’s the kind of hard that forms a lump in your throat when you want to tell your friends that you'd rather stay home than go out tonight and no matter how much you try and swallow, your muscles just fail. Or it’s the kind of hard that pounds your stomach over and over when you want to tell your lover that the relationship isn’t working out and needs to end, but all you manage is a soft sigh. My point is that whatever the situation, saying no is hard. 

Yet, it remains perhaps the most used word in the dictionary. Think about it - how many of us really default to an automatic yes (which by the way has its own merits) out of habit or desire?

Saying no is inextricably tied to a deep sense of self-awareness and alignment with one’s own body, mind, heart and intuition. Internally, most of us know when we should say no. We just fail to act on it and only retrospectively regret it. But just imagine, how much pain, confusion, miscommunication and all sorts of negative emotions and circumstances could be avoided, simply by saying no in the first place? There are some folks who find it easy to throw out a no, and really kudos to you if you are one of them. But if you struggle with saying no, here are a few somethings that I have found particularly helpful in my journey of learning how to say no.

  1. Trust yourself and be selfish

    Most often, we just don’t trust our instinct. Listen to your body, mind, heart and intuition. There is a reason they feel what they feel. Try to give them room to express themselves and listen to what they are telling you. Yes, sometimes your hunch can be wrong, but I have learned that there are but a handful of times when these things provide incorrect signals. We are raised in a society that teaches us to doubt ourselves, to listen to other people, to be giving to others and to be selfless. All this emphasis on others, alienates us from our own selves. We are unable to be kind to our own selves - and boy that sucks! Honestly, no matter what the world tells you, your best well-wisher is you. So be kind unto yourself. Tell yourself that you love you. The quickest way to start loving yourself is by listening to yourself (or at least by consciously trying to do).

  2. Understand your audience and tailor your response

    There are multiple ways of saying no, but they essentially boil down to two core types. The first is by being rude and inconsiderate and the other is by being mindful of your audience’s needs. Three guesses for which one is the more appropriate and effective method! Knowing your audience and then refining your communication to suit them makes for powerful acceptance and reception of your message. Sometimes, all it takes is polite communication and addressing your concerns in a manner your audience can understand - kind of like the phrase speak their language. One really powerful outcome of tailoring your response and knowing your audience is having an insight into the kind of tactics your audience may employ to elicit your consent. These tactics could vary from social pressures to a guilt dynamic - either way, by having an understanding of your audience, you could prepare yourself in advance and brace yourself for their tactics. Courteous communication goes a long way - remember to decline politely. I have often found that saying no at the outset politely helps to deepen a relationship.

  3. Establish boundaries and be firm

    This is perhaps the hardest part about saying no. We experience push-back more often than we’d like and this is where the weaklings (like me) struggle like anything. I will try to be succinct about boundaries - because honestly this could take a whole other post (or several of them). Any relationship needs boundaries for its health and nourishment. Think back to times when another crossed an unspoken boundary with you - how did you feel? Did you feel violated? Unfortunately, our entire system (education, pedagogy and culture) trains us to become great professionals or academics, yet it massively fails to teach us the most fundamental aspect of a relationship - to identify, set and maintain boundaries. There are certain aspects or things which in the relationship under consideration are a complete no-no. We need to equip ourselves to identify what these are, understand how much they mean to us and learn to draw a firm boundary. This is the hardest sort of drawing life asks you to do - to draw a boundary (whether it’s a jagged line, a straight one or some other creative sorts!). Yet, it is essential. It can help you maintain your “no” once you have uttered it, not feel guilty and act with integrity. Boundaries are inherently tied to respect - respect for yourself, for the other and for the relationship itself. To set boundaries means to respect all three. Because setting boundaries is uncharacteristic for most of us, we need to practice doing so and this brings me to my last point…

  4. Practice, practice, practice - I cannot emphasize this enough.

    I honestly cannot emphasize it enough. Setting boundaries and saying no is like learning a language for us. There is no way to get better without practice. And I guarantee that life will present you with ample opportunity to do so. Take advantage of it. A huge aspect of life is growth - and this is just one way to stretch yourself and grow. Start with those with whom it is hardest to say no. You will find that these will be most often your loved ones. Practice with them. If they do truly love you, they will allow you the space to grow and flex your boundary setting muscle till it becomes strong and can emerge as habit.

Saying no is difficult but NO is one of the most important two letter words we can learn to speak. Let’s begin today, shall we?

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