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If you can’t say, “No” then “Yes” means nothing.

October 23, 2017

if you cant say no -bill johnson

“If you can’t say, ‘No’ then ‘Yes’ means nothing.” – Bill Johnson

I first heard these wise words from the late Bill Johnson, one of the founders of the Ionia Macrobiotic Community in Alaska.  The words are simple yet profound and efficiently exemplify a dialectical understanding of life. There are variations to these words and others have expressed and made them popular such as singer-songwriter, Meshell Ndgeocello but who said it first is uncertain.  It could have first been spoken by someone proposing marriage to another and who would not accept their “yes” if they could not authentically say, “no”.  What is certain, at least for me, is that it is a profound and simple truth that is essential for creating harmonious human relations.

The opposite of this wisdom is when one person can not or will not accept “no’ as answer.  In a goal oriented world where “failure is not an option” we praise those who “won’t take ‘no’ for an answer” and while this attitude seeks to build up our self-confidence, without the temperance of mindful presence and respectful listening it can turn into a nightmare of domination and abuse. Instead of a healthy competitive spirit it can unleash an underlying fear of failure where we threaten all who refuse to get out of our way as expressed by the iconic, “make him an offer he can’t refuse” from the “Godfather” film.

In a world that idolizes material wealth and fame and the “self-made” hero, we have also come to idolize our refusal to accept “no” and to normalize the abusive treatment of those who do say it.   “Speak softly and carry a big stick”, “Gunboat diplomacy” and “Nuclear Deterrence” are all ways of threatening anyone who dares to say, “no”.  Strength and power is viewed as those who get what they want and instill fear in those who might say “no”.  Is it really any wonder that in today’s world we have created many who adore Trump as well as persons like Harvey Weinstein and so many others who threaten others who say, “no”?

When a person can not freely say, “no” and walk away without fear, without any threat of harm to themselves or others; when a person can not say, “no”, and be fully respected and appreciated for speaking their mind and making their own free choice then any “yes” (or silence that is taken as a “yes”) is the result of abuse. If we can’t speak freely and be respected for doing so; if we can’t protest freely and be heard and appreciated; if, in response to our “no” our jobs, livelihood, reputations and lives are threatened then we are being abused.  Abuse is done by those who wish to silence the objection of others and seek revenge and control of others.  Abuse is accepting “yes” from those who can’t say “no”. If you can’t say, “no”, then “yes” means nothing. Thank you, Bill Johnson, for sharing these wise words.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Joy Falls permalink
    October 23, 2017 8:15 pm

    I love this Phiya. This bullying attitude is gaining strength because we have a president who uses it. But, we also have sexual predators and abusers FINALLY being called on the carpet for this kind of atmosphere. GREAT ARTICLE!!! Thank you for sharing it.

    Joy Falls

    May the pure light within you, guide your way on.


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