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Fifty Shades of “No”

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After the final ‘no’ there comes a ‘yes’ and upon that ‘yes’ the
future of the world depends. – Wallace Stevens

Prior to being invited to write this piece, I didn’t know the source of this quotation. The first time I heard it was when the remarkable Joan Holmes, CEO of The Hunger Project, was training me as a fund raiser. When debriefing an unsuccessful attempt she would often say, “Well Mick, that’s just one more ‘no’ on the road to ‘yes’.” How refreshing! Somehow it washed away all of the explaining and rationalizing.

It was then that I first began to explore the power of ‘no’. Consider your own experience as you take a moment to say ‘no’ a few times, and then to say ‘yes’ a few times. When I do this, I notice that when I say ‘no’ I experience far more power and possibility. ‘No’ has the power to open up new thinking, new action, turn around and change.

I’ve come to realize that it’s important to examine what I feel inside when I say a clear ‘no’. It puts the conversation into the domain of reality not theory. Kabir(1) says that until we have experienced something, it is not real, no matter how many holy books we’ve looked through or how many gods sculpted of wood and ivory we’ve consulted. What I usually feel following a clear ‘no’ is quiet, calm, and at ease – a surprising experience of harmony!

I recall a senior colleague who was overwhelmed by his job. Twelve hour days were routine. When I asked if he would prefer to make it eight hour days his look said, “Are you crazy?” I introduced him to a coach, who in turn introduced him to the power of saying ‘no’.

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