The kindness of saying no

I think I missed the memo. Somewhere, someone must have published a book, perhaps it’s called MissManners2.0 or some such thing, and within it we are told that the “polite” thing to do these days is to never, ever, say no.

It is now a reasonable expectation to be ignored when making a request.  Enough time goes by and we accept the answer was no. It is now common to send off emails requesting a response and simply never hearing anything. People will go to great lengths to avoid simply being honest and saying, “No, I’d rather not.” We run from any potential confrontation to the point of talking so much more about people than to them. We explain to others why we won’t respond and then simply don’t.

Then we tell ourselves we are being kind. On the surface, such dishonesty being labeled “kind” is laughable, which is why I must have missed the memo that declared it so. Laughable? What, too strong? I don’t think so. Without honesty, we can’t be kind. We perpetuate misunderstanding that ripples out in countless hurtful ways.

I ran across this little saying from something called “Peaceful Warrior” the other day.


The last line jumped out. We could save people so much trouble with honest communication. “Painfully” honest works when coupled with humility, which is why I think we decided it’s no longer polite to be honest. Humility is nearing extinction, crowded out by the epidemic of narcissism.

This might sound overly complicated, but perhaps it’s not. Perhaps its as simple as this: If I’m the star and cast of my own reality show, if other’s don’t play a critical role, then my decision to respond has nothing to do with them. It’s how I feel that matters. I feel responding to an email with a polite, “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not,” makes me uncomfortable. What will they think of me, I wonder?  If I just don’t respond, it’s easier for me. I can ignore it. I can ignore the conversation. I can ignore having to disappoint someone. I may even avoid conflict or further conversation.

I feel better.

And that’s what matters, right?

If I make excuses to avoid doing what I don’t want, it’s all the better than the truth because A) I don’t have to say “I’d rather not,” which might just be well, awkward… ick, but also, B) I tell myself they will feel better with my excuse, so I’m actually being nice! I like thinking of myself as nice. It’s a win-win.


Well, the star of the show is happy, so I guess so.

I’m convinced all of this must have been explained in the memo I missed, which is I am so hopelessly out of touch. Worse, because I keep breaking the 2.0 rules, I’m the one who is not very nice.

The irony is my entire life I hated saying no. I wrote an entire chapter of a book about my desire to say “yes” as often as I could.  In rehab I learned that saying no and saying it honestly would have helped me avoid some of the worst behaviors and worst outcomes of my life. I vowed to live sober and truthfully. I learned to say no. Yet, somehow in that transition, someone issued a memo and I missed it and once again I feel out of step.

But this time, I feel a foundation of truth under my feet. I may be 1.0, but I am comfortable in my skin. I am now an ardent fan of “the courtesy of a reply.” I still prefer yes. But I’ve learned no is necessary at times. Or just the best choice. Or simply OK. In every case it is far, far better than simply ignoring the need to respond or to respond dishonestly.

I am not the star of my own show. The ratings were bad and it got cancelled. I hope a lot of “shows” suffer the same fate. Maybe then we can rediscover the healing power of honest communication even when difficult.


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