A Modern Survival Guide Interlude

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The Psychology and Philosophy of “No”

A lot of us find it very hard to say “no” when directly asked to do something by another person, so that’s the first hurdle to cross for most people. I personally do not like to say “no.” I always feel a bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) whenever I decline an invitation to an event, for example. And I always feel a little guilty if someone asks me for help and I refuse.

When We Should Say “No”

There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule book here; I can’t tell you when you should absolutely refuse a request or proposition. I can offer my opinion on some general situations, and that’s all, so take this with a grain of salt. I would say “no” when:

  • The costs outweigh the benefits — There are times when it just doesn’t make sense to say yes, because saying yes involves more of your time, resources, or energy than you are comfortable giving or than you receive in turn. Like if someone invites you to a company picnic, but only if you fix all the food, or when the casino offers you a complimentary suite, but only if you lose $10,000 at the gaming tables.¹
  • There is no obligation — There are limits to what one should agree to do without obligation, and charity only goes so far. If you have no particular reason to do a thing, you aren’t obligated to it, and you don’t want to do it, why would you do it? Like if a casual acquaintance asks you to dog-sit their incontinent Doberman while they go to Hawaii for a week; that’s something that only friends, family, and significant others get to ask, and everyone else can take a hike.²
  • You need a break — Unless you are particularly obligated to do a thing, there should come a time in all of our lives when we say “no” simply because we need sleep, or a rest day, or a chance to binge-watch Netflix and eat ice cream. There’s a fine line between “needing a break” and “being lazy,” but we do need the occasional break… if we want to stay sane, anyway.

How to Say “No”

There are three kinds of “no”:

  • Nah (informal)⁴
  • Hell no (scathing)⁵

Saying “No” in a “Yes” World

To sum up, there are different times and different ways in which we say “no,” and I think it’s instructive and important to bear them in mind as we go through our lives. The world throws a lot at us. We are encouraged to be empowered, enlightened, globe-trotting polymaths. I encourage you to be an empowered, enlightened, globe-trotting polymath — and moreover I expect you to be good at it.

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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