Friday, August 13, 2010

Doing Less More - The Hated Art of Saying "No."

Just do it! All! Now!

But what if I can't keep doing it all?  Am I doing less more?

I hate the word "No".  It means a choice has been denied, a door closed, an adventure abandoned, or an idea left unexplored.  "Just Say No!" works as an antidrug campaign title, but admit it, doesn't it cause a stir of rebellion.  Doesn't it nudge you to say "Yes" anyway?  Why is that?  Why is saying "No" so difficult for me?

Maybe it is related to what my daughter calls, FOMO, a disease that causes your head to spin, your heart to race; it exhilarates and exhausts me all at the same time.  FOMO?  The 'fear of missing out'.  You know.  Friends are hanging out at Wendell's Coffee shop, the green, earthy, organic reborn hippy place in nearby historic Fort Langley where bikers, bicyclers and bipeds congregate.  Or Michael Buble (sorry Mike, I don't know how to get the accent on the 'e') is in concert and everyone, or so it seems, is asking if you are going.  Or your boss tells you about his contact that can get you and your spouse a balcony suite on a last minute, 4-day, 5-star cruise on the 'Celebrity of the Seas' down the west coast to San Fransisco for $129 each.  How can you say "no"?  As Nobel Prize winner Kofi Annan said, "To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”

The word "no" should be easier to say than "yes".  It is shorter.  But alas, it is the most difficult word in the English language for me to pronounce.  "Would you serve on this charity board?  It does great work and you could really help it realize its potential."  "I have a friend who is in serious trouble.  He has been to 3 other lawyers but they just didn't do anything and took all his money.  Can you help him?"  "Hey mister, I have not eaten today and could sure use a toonie to buy a cheap lunch.  Can you spare a couple of bucks?"  "I just heard about an investment in Latvia that is guaranteeing 33% return on your money in 3 months.  There are only 3 opportunities to get in?  Are you game?" 

YES!  Even when I know the best answer is likely "no".  "Just because I can does not mean I should" I repeat like some addict.   There are literally hundreds of chances to say "yes" each week.  Many of them are good things to say "yes" to.   But not necessarily good for me.

FOMO and my inability to say "no" may have been easily disguised weaknesses in my once youthful, boundless energy.  But Parkinson's disease has introduced an unmistakable note of caution.  I now need to say "no" more often so that I can say "yes" when I need or really want to.

There are several reasons I find "no" gets held captive in my vocal chords.  Some are laudable, some are understandable, while others are downright embarrassing.

I feel good when I am given the opportunity to help, to solve a problem, to 'wear the cape'.  It is affirming to be recognized as being in demand or recognized as an asset.  Let's face it. it feels good to be wanted.  It feels great to do good.  And even better to 'ride to the rescue' of some disadvantaged soul, leaving life's drudgery behind.  But do I say "yes" to feel better about myself or to improve my approval rating.

Sometimes I am simply a creature of habit who says "sure I will" before thinking.  I trained as a volunteer fireman and lived in the Vernon firehall before I was married.  Now that was a kid's dream come true.  In the middle of the night I learned to be very quick to react to the fire bell so that even if sound asleep I was out of bed, into my boots, canvass pants and heavy coat, and on the truck wide awake in less than 1 minute, helmet in hand, listening to the dispatcher squawk out the address of the fire over the radio.  The height of embarrassment was to miss the truck.  Still today I find myself having the same 'firehorse' response to new opportunities that come along.

But with PD there is the need to measure the cost of a careless "yes".  Maybe there always should have been, but I was often too starry-eyed in the glamour of some new adventure to see the toll it took on me, my family and my other commitments.  So I now recognize, at least if my logic is functioning, that discretion is the better part of valour, and "no", while not a possibility-filled word, is necessary so that I can say "yes" longer.

I know more to say no more and just say yes to know more less.

Less is more.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe


  1. Bob, I really loved this blog!
    Reading this was almost embarassing... How can you write about me and still it's about you?
    Makes me wonder if there might be some truth in the theories about the "parkinsonian personality"... Could it be that having the "FOMO"-trait makes you more likely to get PD?

  2. Sara;

    What a pleasure to meet you (Swedes are not all rude!). I truly do appreciate your encouraging comment.


  3. Men like to attack and correct things. I've read where a lady will tell her hubby everything bad that happened that day. She wants him to hold her, pat her and say honey, I'm so sorry you had a bad day. He on the other hand hears "trouble and problem" and wants to attack the villain and solve the problems - not what his wife wanted.

    Your not being able to say no seems to be somewhat the attack and solve problem.

    However, when I was younger and a stay at home mom, I did way too many civic and church activities, and a friend told me I needed to learn to say NO so I'd have more time for my family. So I did, and I got so good at it, that the same friend when I said no to something she wanted me to do said, "You've gotten way to good at saying NO." I thought that was funny. I've since learned my limitations and I only take on things that are truly important to me.

    My advice, only say yes when it really means something to you and your loved ones. Then spend the rest of your time enjoying life.