It was one of my former teachers of English who used to vehemently insist, and I always tended to agree with him, that words belonged to society and not to individuals. As such, he would detest the usage of the phrase, ‘in your own words…’ as was mostly used in some English language and literature questions. He would read a question containing that phrase and immediately respond before reading farther, ‘I don’t have my own words.’
Society has a pool of words from which we extract the words we use for our daily conversational needs. The choice of the words we use is purely ours and there virtually exist no restrictions on word usage. Some of the words paint a positive picture about us while others paint a negative one. Some make people view us as mature while other words make them see us as immature and unserious about life. Some words bless and inspire while others curse and discourage. I repeat, the choice is always ours. Some words are used more than others while others are even misused. It’s interesting that when you pull out opposite words from the pool, you may realize that one of the opposites is more used or preferable than the other, at least by yourself. A good example is the pair of YES and NO.
To most people, the word ‘no’ appears unpopular. Most of those who use it do not use it authoritatively. It appears easier to use the word ‘yes’ than ‘no’ for a number of reasons. First, the word ‘no’ is associated with rebellion and negativity. Some of us find it difficult to say ‘no’ for fear of being viewed as rebellious by those whose questions we respond to as such. This then reduces us to ‘yes’ people who go by the wind and are willing to agree to anything proposed even when we know that the same is unlikely to deliver the expected results. The word ‘no’ also comes with expectations for some explanations and since most of us are not friends with explanations, we often fall for ‘yes’ as the better and cheaper alternative.
However, when looked at with some keenness, the word ‘no’ is a very powerful word. Except when used by pessimists and negativity peddlers, the word ‘no’ is the magic word. It differentiates seriousness from jokes and mediocrity. People who have achieved in life have mastered their usage of the word ‘no’. They know when to say ‘no’ to instant gratification for the sake of their ultimate goals in life. They have known when to say ‘no’ to distractors and time wasters. Besides these, they also know what to say ‘no’ to. Nelson Mandela is largely an icon today not because he served twenty seven years in prison at Robin Island. He was not the only one who served that term. Neither is it because he fought apartheid, hundreds of South Africans did fight apartheid but we hardly remember their names. At the beginning of his jailing at Robin Island, Mandela was given chance to Denounce the Freedom Movement in exchange for his own freedom. He said ‘No!’ and restated his commitment to the fight for liberation. That ‘No’ made the Mandela icon.
Our own Prof. Wangare Maathai did not just say ‘No’ to deforestation but also to unending calls from selfish individuals urging her to denounce her commitment to environmental conservation and allow them to erect developments at Uhuru Park, Karura Forest and others forested places. That firm ‘no’ gave us the Nobel Laureate. The examples are many. Whether you are principled or not lies in the mastery of your usage of that short but powerful word, ‘no.’
Let me add a twist to it. Apart from the reasons cited above on why most people find it difficult to freely use the word ‘no’, the best explanation is that most people do not know how to use the word ‘yes’. Before you can be able to say ‘no’ to something, you must have said ‘yes’ to something else, mostly a better alternative. Before you say ‘no’ to smoking, you must have said ‘yes’ to healthy living first. Before you say ‘no’ to a proposal, you must have said ‘yes’ to a better alternative. That way, it becomes easier to explain your ‘no’.
Put otherwise, you must have something you stand for, something you can die for, something that defines your actions for you to be able to know what to say ‘no’ to. You have to say ‘yes’ to a particular course that guides your actions before you can be able to single out diversionary issues for you to say ‘no’ to them. You must define and say a resounding ‘yes’ to your reason for existence before you can be able to say a resounding ‘no’ to anything else that is not in sync with your ultimate goal. You must say ‘yes’ to your goals before you can say ‘no’ to insignificant activities. Master your usage of the powerful word, ‘No.’
Trainer|Motivational Speaker|Team Builder|Life Coach|Mentor