Saying “No”

It has fallen out of style to decline without excuse. To be honest, I’m not certain that it was ever in style, but I am met with increasing consternation when I decline without following up with details of the fabulous thing I am already engaged in that prevents me from accepting. That is, having an excuse to say no has become mandatory. It is no longer simply enough to say no, because the expectation is the yes.

All of this makes me crazy. Not simply because of the kind of blank stares I get from saying no without explanation, but because everyone else feels it necessary to explain what fabulous event is getting in the way of them saying yes to me.

This used to happen all the time in my homeschool group. We have over 90 families in the group. Somewhere between 3 and 10 families show up to any one event/park date/field trip the group throws. For a while, every time some mother would write in an announcement of an event, there would be an immediate chorus (often in the first 10 minutes) of “Sorry, we can’t come, we have soccer/class/nose picking/youth group/family night/to wash our hair.” I can certainly see if one of the families who shows up to everything were to write in this one time — but the first voice in the chorus was invariably a mom who never showed up to anything — engaged in other, more fabulous things, as she often was.

There is nothing that sucks the life out of the planning of an event than a chorus of negativity, as unintentional as that negativity may be. This is not to say that I think everyone should say yes: I don’t. But take a look at the numbers again: 90+ families, 3-10 of which come to any given gathering. If everyone who wasn’t coming were to write in to say so, we’d have the 3-10 yeses drowned in the sea of nos. The poor person who was trying to organize and do a headcount would have to comb through the sands of no to find the few who were coming. More than that, I think that positive reinforces positive, and negative begets more of the same. That is, especially for new folks, the larger the group, the more likely they are to come and try joining in, because there’s more likely to be kids who “match” their kids, and moms they may “click” with. But more than that, if the feedback is generally positive, they’re more likely to try proposing an event themselves.

That’s one side of the equation.

The other side is this: knowing when to say no. There is nothing that causes burnout faster than saying yes and committing to do something that drains you. And, conversely, if you’re doing something you love, you’re not liable to burnout. You might be tired, you might need a break every so often, but you’re not going to burn out. But if you say yes to something that you find draining, that you dread as you look into the future toward it, that’s where you’re going to burn out. This is one of the problems with staffing Sunday School with parents of young children, and one of the problems with the LOL set (Little Old Ladies) clinging to doing coffee hour: burnout.

The worst part is that each of these groups feels they can’t quit, because they don’t have an excuse to give.

The end result? Sunday School teachers who have to jump ship and change churches to get a break, and lackluster coffee hours.

People who are doing something they love aren’t going to burn out, because they’re in the right place, doing the right thing. I could probably throw a coffee hour every week for several years before I got a even a whiff of slowing down. But just sitting here typing, in my jammies, I can’t see teaching the elementary Sunday School class. When we were still attending ECOR, I’d told the church matriarch (who’s in charge of scheduling the coffee hour) that I’d be “on call,” if she were to find herself in a coffee hour pinch. This was on the tail end of a conversation where she was already (gently, and in good humour) chiding me for signing up for too many spots, and for the Christmas Day brunch we’ve thrown every year for three now.

I’d put money on this though: 58 years ago, when she was my age, I bet she felt the same way about coffee hour.

In The Parable of the Two Sons, a father tells each of his sons to go work in the vineyard. The first tells him no, but later has a change of heart and decides to go. The second says he will, but doesn’t ever show. Michael quips that it is, “Better to say no and not resent things, than to say yes, and be a sea of resentment.”

The thing is this: if you say “yes” and then you do something grudgingly, out of a sense of duty, not only are you more likely to do a lackluster job, you’re also standing in the way of someone who would love to do it.

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