Just Sayin’: What is it About ‘No’ That You Don’t Understand?

What is it about ‘no’ that you don’t understand?

I think that phrase was first seen on coffee cups and t-shirts . . . but I would bet  a whole lot of money that it came out of the mouth of some exasperated mother the thirtieth time she told her pre-teen daughter she couldn’t have  the pink lace hot pants being shown in the store window.

‘No’ is an interesting word.  I would even venture to say that it is a flexible word. We all are aware of languages that have a tonal content to them and we’ve all heard horror stories of someone trying to learn a phrase that would say something nice, only to get the wrong inflection and have it turn out to be a insult instead.  And we tend to think that type of language would be so difficult to learn and thank goodness English isn’t like that. Or is it?

Give some thought to our word NO. It can be said as a statement, it can be said in anger, or in disbelief, or in wonder or in acquiesces and any number of other ways. Just with the utterance of that simple word: NO.  Try it and you’ll see what I mean. The tone, the inflection, the body English, the facial expression – all serve to change the meaning of that word.

Yet, there are those of us who find it difficult to utter that  word. I call it the Ado Annie effect. You know the old saying that if you want something done, find a busy person and ask them. Why is that? It’s usually because that person is someone who just can’t bring themselves to say NO. They are the ‘pleasers’ of our society.  Being a pleaser is not a totally bad thing. We all like to be around people who like to please us, but not when it starts to erode away the individual’s peace of mind, or muscle in on their sleep, or take away from their family, or make inroads into their job. You just gotta man-up and learn to say NO.

I was sitting in a Bible lecture at college (yes, before you, you see the product of LIFE Bible College, L.A.) one afternoon and the speaker was blather .. . excuse me, speaking on the subject of servitude. Being a servant to our fellow human beings. and we’ve all been taught some degree or form of that throughout our lives. And just like that, the thought came to me: “The Bible says we should love our neighbors as ourselves. So, if I don’t love myself enough to take care of my own needs, then I have no way to love my neighbor.” I try think of that whenever I have a situation in which one part of me KNOWS  I should say no, and the needy part of me tends to say yes. It frequently doesn’t help. Believe me, folks, I’m still working on that lesson.

Now, there are myriad reasons why a person feels the need to please everyone and/or take on every task that might pass in front of them. Ego is part of it, I’m sure, as well as security, being needed, being loved. In my case I always suspected that it was because I was afraid people would find out that I really wasn’t indispensable. Hmmm… But usually it’s more that one doesn’t want to be thought of as selfish or uncaring or not understanding the  importance of the task at hand or (heaven forbid) incapable of doing the task. It’s nice to believe that someone thinks you are the most capable one for the job or that you have the perfect set of job skills or whatever else they might suggest. ‘Tain’t so, McGee!  For many of us, especially in our younger years, it’s just that we haven’t yet figured out our boundaries.

My mother liked to say that we are all as indispensable as a thumb in a bucket of water.

Whew, now there’s a chilly nugget of reality. But if you really believe that, it just might help with the saying NO business.

Adrienne Jacoby is a 40-plus-year resident of Shasta County and native-born Californian. She was a teacher of vocal music in the Enterprise Schools for 27 years and has been retired for 11 years.
A musician all her life, she was married to the late Bill Jacoby with whom she formed a locally well -known musical group who prided themselves in playing for weddings, wakes, riots, bar mitzvas and super market openings. And, oh yes . . . she has two children, J’Anna and Jayson.

Adrienne Jacoby
Adrienne Jacoby is a 40-plus-year resident of Shasta County and native-born Californian. She was a teacher of vocal music in the Enterprise Schools for 27 years and has been retired for 11 years. A musician all her life, she was married to the late Bill Jacoby with whom she formed a locally well -known musical group who prided themselves in playing for weddings, wakes, riots, bar mitzvas and super market openings. And, oh yes … she has two children, J’Anna and Jayson.
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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Canda says:

    Oh how I can relate to this one, Adrienne. People pleasing is exhausting business. Your statement, "In our younger years, we hadn't yet figured out our boundaries" really hit a nerve with me. It really does come down to boundaries, doesn't it? I imagine healthy boundaries come from being raised in a functional family, whatever that is. 🙂

  2. A delightfully informative column, as always, Adrienne, and your timing is perfect (for me, at least). Thank you sharing your wisdom and humor with us. 🙂

  3. Avatar Stan says:

    As you point out with the contextual differences of "No", I'll just say that the first time I saw, "What part of No is it that you don't understand?", it was on an engraved sign on a desk in an office. Thankfully, I was not there to ask for something.

  4. Avatar KarenC says:

    I wish the telemarketers that call here would understand the word, "NO". I never listen to them…I simply hang up. My dear husband is more patient and polite and listens to the blather. Then he says NO. They don't listen, just keep on talking and trying to persuade him to buy a piece of the London Bridge or whatever. He goes along with it, continues to say NO until they finally give up and hang up on him. Something is very wrong here!

  5. Avatar CoachBob says:

    Well, I'd like to meet more people that say "yes"! People at banks always say "no". People in the 'return' line, always say "no". When you call to see if something is still under warranty? "No"! Piano players asked to play a new song…."No"!

    And, Karen C., here's a tip for your hubby: Just hang up on the telemarketer. Quickly. If you're not gonna buy, just hang up. Their job depends on the multitude of calls they make. If you keep 'em on the line a long time they're losing money from the calls they coulda been making. And, doing that to them hurts their pocket book but it doesn't stop the process. Just say NO and hang up. FYI

  6. Avatar Claudia says:

    I learned that a long time ago (and the hard way). I found out if I didn't say

    "no" and take care of myself first, then I was no good for anyone else.

  7. Avatar Grammalyn says:

    I struggle with this one, because there are so many things that I want to do. I also don't like to disappoint someone who may need/want me to do something for them. Once I found out that I didn't have to offer an excuse, I was able to say no much easier. "I wish I could do that, but I'm afraid I can't right now" is getting easier to say all the time.

  8. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    What a great article! Your mention of servitude made me thing of those people who work hard at this time of year creating a wonderful holiday experience for friends and family. If we don't show that we appreciate them they will start saying NO. Maybe they should learn to say "Yes, but I'll need help. I can't handle it all by myself."

    I have a hard time saying no, but when I do I like to offer viable solutions for getting the job done. As in "No, I'm not going to sew and install the drapes in your living area for free, but I'll bet there's a business in the area that can handle this job."

  9. Avatar Hollis Pickett says:

    I actually had a conversation with someone over the holiday who is raising a young child (going on 2) and has another on the way. I simply couldn't believe it when she said, "We don't use the word 'no' in our house.". Oh boy, is she ever in a lot of trouble! Jaws dropped…..

    Ask your telemarketers to please give you their home phone number so you can call them back at a time that's more convenient for you. If they balk, remind them that they're calling you at home. This usually results in a very short conversation. Better yet, sign up for caller ID. 😉