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The Power of "No"

My husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), and I opened a joint checking and savings account at a local credit union. Towards the end of the transaction, the credit union rep tells us he needs our signature on something. He slides across the desk a proxy agreement that would allow the credit union to vote our shares for three years. BMNB and I read the agreement at the same time, and, without looking up or looking at each other, we say in unison, "No."

"Are you going to commit to attending shareholder meetings, then?", the credit union rep inquires, semi-indignantly.

Again, we say in unison, "No." And we explain, "We don't have to."

I then explain, "I don't give a proxy to Warren Buffett to vote my shares of Berkshire-Hathaway, just in case Uncle Warren gets a wild hair and decides to lose his mind. I'm surely not going to give my proxy to you. " One tiny thing I forgot, though: I don't have voting shares in Berkshire-Hathaway. I own Berkshire-Hathaway B, not Berkshire-Hathaway A.

That said, the point remains the same. "No" is a powerful word, and we need to use it more often because it expresses so much.

I was amazed at how calmly the credit union rep slid that agreement across the desk and attempted to pass it off as something we had to sign as a condition of opening our account. I won't say that BMNB and I are the most business-savvy folks on the planet, but we knew enough to know that a proxy agreement is not mandatory. "No" for us expressed to the credit union rep that we were more knowledgeable about our options than was he and we refused to accept the only one provided to us.

It got me to thinking of more instances when the power of "no" expressed more than refusal. An elder relative of mine was approached by her sister to sign a quit-claim deed relinquishing her interest in two pieces of property arguably held in the name of her and all her siblings for a mere $10. All the other siblings had signed. After much consternation, she said "no." Then the madness ensued. Tears, disappointment, manipulation, and one high-powered attorney's efforts to get her to sign rained down around her, and despite it all, she stood her ground and remained resolute: No.

For her, "no," wasn't just an expression of a refusal to sign. It was an expression of hurt, hurt that a sibling would try to wrest from her property that their mother intended she have. "No" was a way to put the brakes on a questionable transaction, to "lawyer up" like her sister did, to come to a previously non-existent negotiating table with information, options, and to possibly obtain a different result. "No" is a powerful word, y'all.

Think of it: Netflix customers said "no" to splitting streaming and DVD rental services, resulting higher fees, and Qwikster. Now Netflix is rethinking its course of action and Qwikster is no more.

Bank of America customers said "no" to a $5 fee to use their debit cards to spend their own damn money. Bank of America is walking back its decision, saying the corporate analog of, "My bad."

Occupy Wall Street protesters said "no" to Wall Street corruption and greed and Washington's complicity with it all. This expression of "no" speaks not only as a refusal to continue to go along, but a consciousness-raising movement, giving a name to the rest of us who continue to be screwed by capitalism run amok: The 99%.

Even a rooster expressed his "no" and his disapproval of BMNB being on his property this weekend, attacking BMNB as he attempted to help me to pick up something on the rooster's property. With BMNB being the only other male on the property and arguably a threat to the rooster's good thing -- unlimited food and sex with the hens -- the rooster thumped BMNB on the back of the leg with a wing and crowed his "no."

"No" gives us the power to do alot, including:

* Refuse to accept the status quo
* Refuse to accept what's being offered
* Express anger
* Express outrage
* Express hurt
* Allow time to consider different options
* Express superior knowledge of available options and exercise those options
* Express suspicion or discomfort based on instinct and act on that instinct

"No" is indeed a powerful word that we need to use more often.

In this recession, many of us have had to sit on our "noes" in the workplace for lack of options, for fear of losing the jobs we have. What employers don't realize is that recessions don't last forever, and many employees are going to express their "noes" by retiring, finding better jobs, or just developing other streams of income and walking away.

"No" is a powerful thing. Use it.


Fatima said…
Hmmm...I never thought about the power in saying "No". I need to start using it more often.
Kirk said…

I've read this a couple of times, and there is some nice work here. I totally agree; most Americans are afraid to say "no" for various reasons, and they should learn to say "no" more often.

I've travelled all over the world - something every American should do - and what did I learn? Well, a few things: 1) Americans ain't always all that and a bag o' chips. There are some cultures around the world that are surely better (I personally like the people in Chile, Portugal and Greece better. And if I thought about it I could surely expand that list.) 2) Americans have been brainwashed, err, "socialized," to make other people happy, at their own expense. Ugh. If I could change one thing about this country, it would be the following: To yourself first be true. 3) Not that I'm a big fan of the Parisians - they are curt at best, and that's on a good day - but they know how to say "no" early and often. I'll give them points for honesty.

One issue about the word "no" though: people will not like you - particularly here in America - when you bring out that "controversial" word. Well, to you I say this: who cares? If someone asked you to jump off a cliff, would you say "yes"? Don't say "no." Say "hell no!"

San Francisco

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