Just Say No

Sometimes am I especially dense when it comes to picking up on a particular life lesson.

*Spoiler alert*
This is one of those times.

I get the vague sense that there is a divine voice booming down at me through a loud speaker. “Hello? Hello?? Veena?? He- HELLO? Anyone in there?”

Like the slacking student sleeping on his desk in the middle of class, drool dribbling out of the side of his gaping mouth, I sputter awake with a, “Huhhh… whaa…” and “The limit does not exist?” and “Oh crap this isn’t math class, is it?”

Oh good. She’s awake.

Yes. Hello. Hi. Right here.

Today’s lesson is: there is not a lot one can do to put other people at ease. On the whole, people who are ill-at-ease have been that way long before they met you and will continue to be that way long after you leave their life.

Being honest? Great. Being authentic? Awesome. Being unafraid? Oooh. Get at me. Fearlessness actually will go a long way to put people at ease. That may sound like a contradiction of what I just said, but stick with me. Being fearless and being caring is a very powerful combination and if anything can put people at ease, that is it. With that kind of confidence people know that you have no need to hurt them, but more importantly that they are not capable of hurting you. It naturally eases other people’s fears because subconsciously, they know that if they make a mistake, the world will still continue turning as far as you’re concerned, that a mistake won’t necessarily jeopardize your relationship.

I’ve had a good deal of practice with these things and as a result am pretty unafraid and compassionate with friends and acquaintances about 90% of the time. I’m not better than anyone else, but I have been specifically taught how to be loving.

But, of course, I wanted more. I wanted there to be some kind of magic safe word that you can just utter and immediately put people at ease.

You may be shocked to learn that this isn’t the case. Nor is their any bell you can ring nor any magic fairy dust you can sprinkle nor any special pair of shoes that you can click together three times. Well, you could always try that with your favorite pair, but my guess is that it would only serve to increase fear in those around you.

None of this stopped me from trying and offering such inane utterances such as, “It’s okay if you say no,” and “I’ll still like you if you don’t want to,” and my personal favorite, “No pressure.” Stuff of gold, eh?

Apparently you can’t force people to be at ease– unless you’re in the military and are using a very strict definition of the term “ease.”

Why does’t this panacea exist? By couching my real message in all kinds of disclaimers, I am actually telling you that I am afraid of your fear. I’m trying to control you. Your uncomfortableness makes me feel uncomfortable, so stop it now. Please. Or else.

All it does is make the nervous people more nervous and make the un-nervous people go, “Calm the fuck down, Veena. I’m familiar with the word ‘no.'”

Yes, well. I’ve learned that when the situation gets dire enough, everyone becomes capable of saying “no” in his own way. We rise to the occasion. In case you have trouble picking up on this, as I did in the past, this sounds very much like silence. No returned phone calls, texts, or emails is in all likelihood a, “No. Please, please leave me alone now.”

Armed with this information we can have faith that people will tell us “no” if they want to, or at least display an expression of extreme consternation on their faces. Frankly, I’ve met a very, very sparse few that are capable of saying “no” clearly and unequivocally, but no matter how many times we tell people, “It’s okay if you say no,” it doesn’t make that outcome any more likely. We will become better at recognizing and respecting these “no”s if we lose our fear and allow people to be themselves, even if that means being scared and offering a volley of excuses and apologies on the heels every “no.”

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