Saying “no”

Just as it is important to have empathy, to help others and to want to please them, it is also important to be able to say “no” to them. However, many of us find it extremely difficult to say “no” to someone who asks us for something directly. How difficult it is to say a simple “no”! Refusal is one of the first messages we learn to express, and yet one of the most difficult to reproduce. Why do we find it so difficult when doing so would get us out of a tight spot?

It was not always costly for us. Let’s remember the times when we said “no” with ease. One of them is when we were children. Little ones tend to do just the opposite of what they are told to do, even if they get a scolding from their parents afterwards. Joan Manuel Serrat emphasised this in “Esos locos bajitos”: “Child, stop fucking around with the ball, you don’t say it, you don’t do it, you don’t touch it“. But is expressing their “no” a sign of reciedumbre in the little ones? Let alone the insolent rebelliousness of adolescents towards their elders without seeking agreements and conciliations. Their stance seems consistent, but their subversive self-assertion is basically weakness, because it transmutes into surrender and laziness when they then relate to their peers and colleagues.

If we were not always like this, how can we explain our difficulty as adults in not being able to say “no” in everyday life, at work, in the face of a favour, or to say “no” to the Internet? At times like this, we are paralysed by fear of rejection or loss of esteem from others. Even unconscious mechanisms come into play, such as guilt for putting our needs before those of family members or colleagues; or anguish for being unable to avoid overloading ourselves with tasks that do not correspond to us and that harm us physically and psychologically.

Is there a way to say “no” when we don’t dare? There are no automatic solutions, but there is a word of Jesus that proposes to us: “Let your speech be yes, yes; no, no. What happens there comes from the Evil One“. Whatever comes from there is from the Evil One” (Mt 5, 37). His proposal makes it clear to us that sometimes we have to say no. And that, precisely, is good news. And that, precisely, is good news, because it unmasks our “fear of the truth”. We prefer to pretend instead of being ourselves. Not telling the truth is like putting make-up on our soul and attitudes, like putting make-up on the way we act. But it is not the truth. Pretending prevents the courage to speak the truth openly. And we must always tell the truth, tell it wherever we are and tell it in spite of everything. In an environment where interpersonal relationships are lived under the banner of formalism, the virus of hypocrisy spreads easily. And a hypocrite does not know how to love, even if it seems so.

Paradoxically, saying “no”, when we cannot or should not do what is asked of us, has an affirmative effect: that “no” affirms our individuality and dignifies us, as long as it is not an excuse for laziness, of course. Let us not be afraid to be honest, to speak the truth, to be content with the truth. Then we will be able to love. To act in any other way than the truth means jeopardising the solidity of our relationships.

My wish is that good people, Christians and non-Christians, believers, agnostics, atheists and good-hearted people duly saying “yes” or “no” will crush the head of hypocrisy, which cannot stand the frankness of truth.


Juan Carlos cmf



Start typing and press Enter to search