Thursday, 14 June 2012

just say no thank you

so i found a link to this piece over at shakesville, and it suddenly opened my eyes in a way that i hadn't expected.  of course i'm used to discussing & reading about issues of consent as relates to sexual violence.  and that means i'm conscious about issues of consent in other areas as well.  and certainly this is hardly new:

We grow up learning that “No” is rude. It’s more important to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. It’s important to be polite and accommodating. Setting boundaries and prioritizing our own comfort and safety is selfish. We push these lessons even harder on women, expecting them to be caretakers, putting everyone else’s needs above their own.

but something really clicked when i read this personal experience in the comments:

But the thing is, excuses can be overcome. I learned this when ... they wanted me to sing in their choir. I didn't want to. But instead of saying, "Oh, no thank you," I made excuses. And the choir director overcame each of my excuses--at some effort to herself--and at 22, I felt cornered and sang in that choir. I didn't want to. It was a bad choir, and I did not like it.

It was also a huge life lesson. Excuses make things into a negotiation. Some things are negotiations. Some things are not. If you really mean that you
would love to sing in that church choir except for the following factors, by all means say so. But if what you mean is that you would rather fend off rabid hyenas with a nerf bat, just say no thank you.

i can't sing & i've never been in a choir, but oh that story is so familiar.  i definitely have this inability to give an outright "no" to a request.  i'll often try with the excuses, but more often, it'll be a deep sigh & "ok, i'll do it".  it's usually because i know the people around me are equally stressed if not more so; and the people willing & capable to take on that particular bit of unpaid work are just so few & far between.  so i try to think of where i can fit it into my schedule & carry on as best i can.

just lately, i've taken on a position that i seriously didn't want.  i said "yes" under pressure & have since been carrying it out to the best of my ability.  but i've also been feeling quite upset about it.  and reading the whole piece and some comments have really made clear the source of my distress.

it's because the people around actually knew that i didn't want to take on this role - they knew it quite clearly.  there was no ambiguity, because i'd been quite clear on the matter.  but they chose not to respect my feelings, they chose not to respect my boundaries. they didn't ask me about how much stress i was already under, and whether or not i was going to cope with the additional workload.

on the plus side, they promised to fully support me & do whatever was asked of them.  and they have done that - i am feeling well-supported in the role.  but the resentment i've been feeling is all about having my boundaries ignored.  just being able to recognise that is actually a huge help.  and this:

When someone says no, the correct response is “Okay.” If you don’t understand, that’s fine. You don’t have to understand. Maybe the other person will be willing to explain. Maybe not. But they don’t owe you an explanation.

You have the right to say no, period. And if someone can’t accept that, then the hell with them. The problem isn’t you.

yes, yes, totally yes. excuse me, i'm off to say "no" to someone about an unpaid job that i just don't have the energy to do.  and i'm not going to feel guilty about it either.  it's my right to say no.


Tamara said...

Thanks for this post. Saying "No" is definitely a feminist issue. And a parenting issue. I am trying to raise my children to respect other people's boundaries and that means us respecting theirs. It's quite a tough balance, respecting a child's decision while making sure they are looked after. That's where it starts though.

Law said...

Absolutely true stargazer. Learning to say "No thank you" with a polite smile has got me out of the cycle of constantly attending events I didn't want to. And I feel more honest than umming and ahhing and half way committing to spare others feelings.

Power to you Tamara, if they know what respect feels like now, their expectations of good treatment will be set for life. That will ripple out to all the people around them as they grow, awesome.

casual observer said...

I agree with your post, stargazer. As a recovering people pleaser myself, I can identify with your challenges. Have fun with your new-found NO-ness.

In my opinion, though, you may have been be too generous with the thank you tacked on the end of your no. You know these people and yourself better than me, so you can decide. Let me run some ideas past you and see how they sit. When I read this bit:

“…it's because the people around actually knew that i didn't want to take on this role - they knew it quite clearly. there was no ambiguity, because i'd been quite clear on the matter. but they chose not to respect my feelings, they chose not to respect my boundaries. they didn't ask me about how much stress i was already under, and whether or not i was going to cope with the additional workload…”

I wondered if you might have overlooked a valuable technique: say yes, then don’t follow through. In the above quote, you identify some really unpleasant traits. Those people demonstrated zero respect for you, every intention of ramming through their own agenda, making a joke of your quiet refusal and offering the insidious consolation of “support” in something you don’t want to do. You are being asked to suppress your true feelings at your cost, for their gain. You’re being asked to be a macho man. Even if they are ignorant enough to not know what they are doing, you are engaged in emotional warfare there. As a general warning to back off, they at least deserve to get the run around. You are clearly a more forgiving person than me.

Ideals of extreme and unbalanced masculinity caused me all kinds of trouble and I’m a man. For women to be forced into it must be complete hell. I hope you have a plan to keep yourself safe. I understand the context of a workplace makes it another level of complexity, but is there a way to become undependable in a constructive way? If you harbour any ambitions within mainstream culture, could you examine those for alternatives that make you less appealing to manipulators? Saying no all the time could open you up to the hogwash of being labelled “not a team player”, but use an apparently undesirable weakness as a weapon and there’s nothing for manipulators to grab onto. Nothing undermines patriarchal utilitarianism like the apparent “uselessness” of stereotypically “feminine” unpredictable flighty behaviour. Smoke and mirrors. Use their stupidity against them! Why extend respectful behaviour by asserting our exact position to manipulators who will use everything we give against us? Is there an alternative that addresses a pre-disposition to be weak (for people like me) with the socially learned idea that everyone should be straight-up and strong? Would it be right, even as an interim measure, to save assertive, clear communication for people who can be trusted or who are not a direct threat, while confuse and repulse those who demonstrate emotionally abusive techniques, utilising our inherent ability to appear “flighty”? No one wants to give extra work to those who don’t do it, or do it poorly, right?

If saying no thank you works for you, I’m glad. But I’m also concerned that a mental leap from submissive to assertive is too sudden for some and could cause emotional loose ends or conceal what they might need to personally find. In a world that takes what it wants when it wants, the idea of being an isolated bastion of dependability, good manners and masculine assertiveness may have limited value. Ideals and hope couldn’t protect me. No one can stand up to the world on their own. Adopting the “strength doctrine” put me in a frame of mind that my “weakness” was to be discarded and sneered at. But if it was an inherent part of me, why was I being trained to reject it, tearing myself apart? It does have a place and I have no hesitation in unleashing my flighty undependability to protect myself. It doesn’t bother me if people think poorly of me – just filters out the idiots faster. Best of luck with your efforts.

Anonymous said...

While sorry you feel stressed stargazer, realise it is rare that a person cannot say "Stop" "I need a break" or even "I quit" at any moment when things get too much regarding leadership. Basically, you probably could say "NO!" right now.

But also realise the people (who you are angry at but who you acknowledge have kept their word on support) may have seen some greatness in your that you may not see or know yourself.

Also remember: 'As Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night, “Some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” When an initially disinclined individual makes the conscious choice to step forward and lead,he or she generates an unusually pure commitment. It’s decidedly different than someone who seizes an opportunity assuming that they should lead, or that being at the top is the only end-game worth achieving.' (From European CEO Leadership "The Reluctant Leader") There are examples of many reluctant leaders who have changed the world. Perhaps you will be one.