I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film ‘Yes Man’. It’s a highly enjoyable story of a man who says no to life; who never goes anywhere or does anything and is stuck in the same old job as a loans officer for a bank. Then one day he goes to an empowerment seminar where he is persuaded to enter a ‘contract’ agreeing to say yes to everything – literally everything – that comes along. It’s very different from the book; but what struck me about both book and film was this: just how impossible would it be to do this as a woman? Totally, right? Can you imagine – a woman going round saying yes to everything? So maybe the best option for women would be to practise saying no, since traditionally women are supposed to be amenable, open, charming and supportive. So what would ‘No Woman’ look like? *
Of course you’d have to be discriminating otherwise you’d have to say no to a good job offer or a gift or a holiday or some other opportunity. But suppose you started saying no to all the things you really want to say no to?
I did this the other week. If I have a weakness it’s a tendency to take on jobs which need doing and which no-one else wants to do. If there’s a need in an organisation, some part of me feels the urge to rush in and Save the Day. I’ve got better at this as time goes by and I no longer volunteer for things that don’t play to my strengths – but if jobs seem to be the sort of thing I’d be good at, I generally persuade myself that this is The Thing To Do.
A case in point: recently at a meeting, a vacancy was announced. Immediately my ‘save the day’ urge kicked in – but I’ve learned caution so instead of volunteering I raised my hand and asked what the job entailed. I deliberately and quite specifically said as a prelude to the question, ‘I’m not volunteering to do this.’ And what happened? One week later I heard that no fewer than three people had said, ‘isn’t it great that Liz is going to be _______?.’ This got my back up somewhat and I said a very firm No right there and then. It particularly annoyed me that my words hadn’t been heard; all that had registered was that I’d shown an interest, and that people leapt from that to thinking I’d agreed to do it.
All this is in stark contrast to the Quakers. When there is a job to be done the Nominations Committee (of which I am a member) sit and reflect on who might be asked to undertake that role. This can be a process which may evolve over weeks or months; or a name might come up immediately. That person is then asked; whereupon they go away and reflect on it, again over a period of weeks or months. They then come back to the Noms Committee with a response. At no time is any pressure put on anyone to say yes. The Quaker attitude is that jobs exist for people, not people for jobs.
Hmm. Now, what else can I say ‘no’ to today?
* No Bob Marley jokes please