The Necessity of No

“The most basic boundary-setting word is no.”  So wrote Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their bestselling book, Boundaries.   Some people excel at saying “no.”  My wife is quite proficient at it.  Me?  Not so much.  But I’m learning.

I know a minister who requires those he’s going to marry to read Boundaries.  He said this book is the most important book to him outside the Bible.  And to prove it, he asked a prospective groom—to whom he’d assigned the book quite some time before—if he’d read the book.  This was Wednesday.  The wedding was on Saturday.  “Uh, no.  I haven’t gotten to it.”  “Well, you better get reading or I won’t marry you guys on Saturday.”

He read the book.  It’s a big deal.

One of the go-to sentences we use a lot these days, especially with those close to us when we cannot say yes is “they’ll just have to figure it out.”  We are defaulting to this more and more, with good reason.

If you don’t know how to say no to people, you are like a painted target.  Those who have a poor sense of boundary and propriety hone in on “really nice people” like an F-15 locking on to a target in war.

If you don’t learn how to say no, you will have a life of varied chaos.  You will allow yourself to be taken advantage of.  You will enable irresponsible behavior.  And with such enabling behavior comes burnout and a loss of self-respect.  I know.  I’ve been there more than I’d like to admit.

People say yes to all sorts of requests for lots of reasons, some good, others not.  Sometimes we say yes because we are generous people who want to help.  But if one’s tendency is to always say yes to some appeal, it’s unlikely that the motives are pure and good.

We often say yes because we feel guilty saying no.  We say yes because we want approval.  We say yes because we’re afraid our egos will suffer if we do otherwise.  We say yes because we are anxious.  Most of all, we default to yes because we lack a clear sense of self.  Edwin Friedman calls this self-differentiation.

When we say no.  When we are not quick to step in when someone has gotten into a jam, with all the attendant drama, we not only hurt ourselves, we hurt them.  There is something healthy and ennobling about letting someone “figure it out.”  It is in solving the problems of life, especially the kind we’ve brought on ourselves, that we grow.

So here’s a challenge.  Starting with small steps, begin to know when to say no.  And then say no.  One of our favorite forms of no is “I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me.” If your default setting is to say yes, you probably need to work on changing it to no.  Take a step back and be brutally honest with yourself.  “Will this really help them or is it just sparing me pain in the shortfall?”

 

Suggested Resources:

Friedman’s Fables (Edwin H. Friedman)

The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (M. Scott Peck)

 

Image Credit

 

Advertisements

Personality, Uniqueness and Boundaries

boundaries“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (William Shakespeare)

Some time ago, I found myself thinking about what motivates the decisions we make in life.  There are numerous perceived and imperceptible influences that guide us in our decisions.  Some are healthy.  Others are not.

For example, you may have made decisions about where to make your home and your living out of a desire to please others, even those close to you.  You may have taken on burdens simply because you were afraid that if you declined—a boundary mechanism—you would lose favor with somebody.  And then you live with regret and varied degrees of toxic self-disdain and recrimination.

Seven years ago, a pastoral colleague of mine shared something with me over lunch.  He told me that the most important book he’d ever read, outside of the Bible, was Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  In fact, he refused to marry any couple who came to him for premarital counseling and would not read the book, a requirement for him to solemnize the nuptials.  Yes, it’s that important.

Long and short of the message of Boundaries is this: The most important boundary marker you have at your disposal is the word no.  You simply have to use it.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and a little ornery; maybe because I’ve hit the half century mark, complete with health concerns; but I now realize that the person I have to live with until I die—every waking and unconscious moment—is me.  Christian Fahey.  And when, to paraphrase Shakespeare, I’m not true to myself…I don’t walk in integrity…I’m not true to my calling, my wiring, my passions for life and vocation, I have to live with me.  My conscience.  My memories.  My misgivings.

All of a sudden, pleasing other people at the expense of doing what I know is right and valid seems hollow indeed.  Life’s too short to be somebody else.

So here’s to moving forward, living in such a way that minimizes regrets and self-doubt.  Here’s to being true to the God-given vision for yours and my life.  Here’s to being true to oneself.

And it will surely follow that we’ll all be more true to others.

Image Credit

Be You

be_yourself“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (William Shakespeare)

Fall is nearly upon us.  It’s a new season in more ways than one.  Fall tends to put people into a more academic frame of mind, if you will.  Our children return to school and people are often eager to learn and grow as the weather begins to chill and the leaves to turn.  It’s always been that way with me.

Some months ago, I found myself thinking about what motivates the decisions we make in life.  There are numerous perceived and imperceptible influences that guide us in our decisions.  Some are healthy.  Others are not.

For example, you may have made decisions about where to make your home and your living out of a desire to please others, even those close to you.  You may have taken on burdens simply because you were afraid that if you declined—a boundary mechanism—you would lose favor with somebody.  And then you live with regret and varied degrees of toxic self-disdain and recrimination.

Some years ago, a pastoral colleague of mine shared something with me over lunch.  He told me that the most important book he’d ever read, outside of the Bible, was Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  In fact, he refused to marry any couple who came to him for premarital counseling and would not read the book, a requirement for him to solemnize the nuptials.  Yes, it’s that important.

Long and short of the message of Boundaries is this: The most important boundary marker you have at your disposal is the word no.  You simply have to use it.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and a little ornery, but I now realize that the person I have to live with until I die—every waking and unconscious moment—is me.  Christian Fahey.  And when, to paraphrase Shakespeare, I’m not true to myself…I don’t walk in integrity…I’m not true to my calling, my wiring, my passions for life and vocation, I have to live with me.  My conscience.  My memories.  My misgivings.

All of a sudden, pleasing other people at the expense of doing what I know is right and valid seems hollow indeed.  Life’s too short to be somebody else.

So here’s to moving forward, living in such a way that minimizes regrets and self-doubt.  Here’s to being true to the God-given vision for yours and my life.  Here’s to being true to oneself.

And it will surely follow that we’ll all be more true to others.

Image Credit

Your Constant Companion

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (William Shakespeare)

Those of you who’ve been regular visitors to The Upside have noticed that my writing this past Summer has been intermittent at best.  My wife and I are in a new season of our lives, preparing for moves vocational, geographical and social.  We’ve spent the past three months getting our house ready and putting it on the market.  Now for a buyer.

Today marks the first day of Fall.  The autumnal equinox arrived this morning.  It’s a new season in more ways than one.  Fall tends to put people into a more academic frame of mind, if you will.  Our children return to school and people are often eager to learn and grow as the weather begins to chill and the leaves to turn.  It’s always been that way with me.

This afternoon I found myself thinking about what motivates the decisions we make in life.  There are numerous perceived and imperceptible influences that guide us in our decisions.  Some are healthy.  Others are not.

For example, you may have made decisions about where to make your home and your living out of a desire to please others, even those close to you.  You may have taken on burdens simply because you were afraid that if you declined—a boundary mechanism—you would lose favor with somebody.  And then you live with regret and varied degrees of toxic self-disdain and recrimination.

Some years ago, a pastoral colleague of mine shared something with me over lunch.  He told me that the most important book he’d ever read, outside of the Bible, was Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  In fact, he refused to marry any couple who came to him for premarital counseling and would not read the book, a requirement for him to solemnize the nuptials.  Yes, it’s that important.

Long and short of the message of Boundaries is this: The most important boundary marker you have at your disposal is the word no.  You simply have to use it.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and a little ornery, but I now realize that the person I have to live with until I die—every waking and unconscious moment—is me.  Christian Fahey.  And when, to paraphrase Shakespeare, I’m not true to myself…I don’t walk in integrity…I’m not true to my calling, my wiring, my passions for life and vocation, I have to live with me.  My conscience.  My memories.  My misgivings.

All of a sudden, pleasing other people at the expense of doing what I know is right and valid seems hollow indeed.  Life’s too short to be somebody else.

So here’s to moving forward, living in such a way that minimizes regrets and self-doubt.  Here’s to being true to the God-given vision for yours and my life.  Here’s to being true to oneself.

And it will surely follow that we’ll all be more true to others.

Image Credit

It’s Your Life: Own It

True confession: I like to weasel out of responsibility for my life and choices.  And I’m pretty good at it—and at self-deception as well.

I kvetch about working too many hours or having too many things on the schedule.  But I said “yes” for a myriad of good and lousy reasons. And then I’m tired and irritable.  I grouse about looking like a chubby little hobbit but I ate the M&M’s and Tootsie Rolls staring at me from the bowl, saying, “Take me, I’m yours.”

It doesn’t work for me, frankly.  This incident from Scott Peck’s life, recounted in The Road Less Traveled is mighty convicting.  But he nails this whole matter of taking responsibility for one’s life:

_________________________

Almost all of us from time to time seek to avoid-in ways that can be quite subtle-the pain of assuming responsibility for our problems. For the cure of my own subtle character disorder at the age of thirty I am indebted to Mac Badgely. At the time Mac was the director of the outpatient psychiatric clinic where I was completing my psychiatry residency training. In this clinic my fellow residents and I were assigned new patients on rotation. Perhaps because I was more dedicated to my patients and my own education than most of my fellow residents, I found myself working much longer hours than they. They ordinarily saw patients only once a week. I often saw my patients two or three times a week. As a result I would watch my fellow residents leaving the clinic at four-thirty each afternoon for their homes, while I was scheduled with appointments up to eight or nine o’clock at night, and my heart was filled with resentment. As I became more and more resentful and more and more exhausted I realized that something had to be done. So I went to Dr. Badgely and explained the situation to him. I wondered whether I might be exempted from the rotation of accepting new patients for a few weeks so that I might have time to catch up. Did he think that was feasible? Or could he think of some other solution to the problem? Mac listened to me very intently and receptively, not interrupting once. When I was finished, after a moment’s silence, he said to me very sympathetically, “Well, I can see that you do have a problem.”

I beamed, feeling understood. “Thank you,” I said. “What do you think should be done about it?”

To this Mac replied, “I told you, Scott, you do have a problem.”

This was hardly the response I expected. “Yes,” I said, slightly annoyed, “I know I have a problem. That’s why I came to see you. What do you think I ought to do about it?”

Mac responded: “Scott, apparently you haven’t listened to what I said. I have heard you, and I am agreeing why you. You do have a problem.”…[cursing] I said, “I know I have a problem. I knew that when I came in here. The question is, what am I going to do about it?”

“Scott,” Mac replied, “I want you to listen. Listen closely and I will say it again. I agree with you. You do have a problem. Specifically, you have a problem with time. Your time. Not my time. It’s not my problem. It’s your problem with your time. You, Scott Peck, have a problem with your time. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

I turned and strode out of Mac’s office, furious. And I stayed furious. I hated Mac Badgely. For three months I hated him. I felt that he had a severe character disorder. How else could he be so callous? Here I had gone to him humbly asking for just a little bit of help, a little bit of advice, and the bastard wasn’t even willing to assume enough responsibility even to try to help me, even to do his job as director of the clinic. If he wasn’t supposed to help manage such problems as director of the clinic, what the hell was he supposed to do?

But after three months I somehow came to see that Mac was right, that it was I, not he, who had the character disorder. My time was my responsibility. It was up to me and me alone to decide how I wanted to use and order my time. If I wanted to invest my time more heavily than my fellow residents in my work, then that was my choice, and the consequences of that choice were my responsibility. It might be painful for me to watch my fellow residents leave their offices two or three hours before me, and it might be painful to listen to my wife’s complaints that I was not devoting myself sufficiently to the family, but these pains were the consequences of a choice that I had made. If I did not want to suffer them, then I was free to choose not to work so hard and to structure my time differently. My working hard was not a burden cast upon me by hardhearted fate or a hardhearted clinic director; it was the way I had chosen to live my life and order my priorities. As it happened, I chose not to change my life style. But with my change in attitude, my resentment of my fellow residents vanished.    

______________________________

This is tough medicine.  But we are responsible for our choices.  You didn’t have to take that job.  Go out with that person.  Vote for Obama or Bush.  Drink too many mixed drinks.  Eat the M&M’s.

Life is so much easier when we live free.  But freedom comes at the price of taking complete responsibility for all that is in our power.