When to say “no”

“No is also the answer,” she said to me strictly. She always taught me but she could do this unobtrusively, without trespassing my boundaries and pressure. She often told me the stories without morality and implications. But I listened to her and realized what she was talking about.

I was a bit less than 30, she was a bit more than 50. We were friends. It would be later, in ten years when she moved to another country. And I even came to visit her once. And then we lost the touch…

But now she is teaching me to say the word “no” because I am exhausted by the pressure which I feel every day. I write materials on social topics. And there is always plenty of pain and suffering. And unsolved problems. So it is me who was ordered to tackle them.

There are the mid-90s outside. Facebook and Youtube are not invented yet. There is no Internet in each house. That’s why they go to the editorial office. They cry, shout, threat, beg. To phone, to spur, to press, to write. I am tired and lost heart. I am always disturbed. “Okay. You’ve written about is. What’s next? Did you call the prosecutor? And the chairman of the regional council? And the mayor? Can you go to the police with me? To the court? And so in a circle. Even in the case where they can put an effort themselves, they want “to call the correspondent”. I can’t say “no” and there are people in trouble. That’s why I phone someone, ask, call on, beg…

Then my older colleague closed the door of her cabinet where we were left alone and she said to me literally by syllables: no is also the answer! Be able to refuse. Don’t you understand that you are just used? Why should they strain if you will help?

So that is when I gained my consciousness back. Of course, I never learned to finally and firmly say “no” – even where necessary. But I have been stubbornly practicing all these years.

And also I learn not to suggest solving one’s issues or troubles if I am not asked. Because I know that many love ready-made answers and will gladly use them.

Inability to say “no” for all these years burdened my life. Unconsciously, I understand what happened to me. Perhaps, I myself wanted these little and big heroic deeds to be later proud of myself. So that someone said, “hey, you helped me back then”. And what for? To improve self-evaluation? To be confident? Or to be praised?

I spent a lot of time, energy and efforts on strange people. And not when these people were in trouble. It’s clear with trouble. But people were too lazy to do anything on their own. To get strained once again. To make a phone call on their own. To go there where the answers to their questions are. To think, in the end.

The most classical one – the job search. Like, there is a good person, can you “get him fixed up”? Where? What about sites, agencies, vacancies and the like? Why me? Because “I know someone”?

Further – “There is a good project, help to find the funds for it.” But I can’t look for the funds, this is another job. I don’t know the places where these funds are distributed and how it should be done. Why me? Because “it seems you should know”? Or “maybe you just lend me some money?”

I can give many examples. But I already understand that I am a living example, illustration and a victim of classical manipulations.

Why is it so difficult for us to refuse the request, to reject what steals our time and sucks the energy? Why so many of us are ready to neglect their own interests and time, exerting their sinews to rush helping the ones who wait to prey on us?

I am not writing about troubles and grief when a person really needs help. I’m about transferring responsibility for one’s life to someone else.

Remember the verse from the school curriculum about a boy-the-helper? He roams “the forests and groves” and “helps” everyone. This way we were raised. We have to help others. Societal is above the individual. Don’t be selfish. You must respond to the request of your friends. First people, then yourself.

The part of my private life was destroyed because of these stereotypes which had been actively stuffed into my head by the school and society. Specificity of work and the character properties made me load my head with a huge amount of people and carry them along with my life. Tackling other’s problems on the way. Well, I can do it, aren’t I tired? To make a phone call, to do something, to make some important decision because a person was lost and so on, in a circle, for years.

This is the time which was stolen not only from me but also from my family. Because I had to put on hold my own life, rush and plunge my head into other people’s affairs – to help them.

Because to say “no” – how dare I? A person pins all their hopes on me and waits! And I didn’t think that this person just passed the buck, devouring my energy.

Until my older and wiser colleague closed the door of the editorial room and said “no is also the answer! Learn to say no! You are not bound to anyone except yourself and your child!

And then my mind cleared up a bit. And I thought that all this help is like the meals at the banquet. You come to the party and there are 33 meals – delicious ones! And they have to be tried. You tried each of them but for the last one – the 33rd. You didn’t have time; the party was over. The time will pass. What meals will you remember? The ones which you tried or the one which you failed to try? Of course, the one which you failed to try. The unfulfilled always goes on.

This analog helped me to understand why I helping other people tackling their own daily problems (these are not life-or-death ones) get disaffection in response. Know why? Because it’s worth doing something “wrong” from that someone had planned or not to respond immediately to a whim and you will be told directly or indirectly how they are dissatisfied with you because you “couldn’t help”, “promised and haven’t done”, “did but wrongly”.

People more eagerly remember what you haven’t done for them than what you actually did.

So, experiencing these all, I know that it is worthless.

Send your friends to psychotherapists. Don’t waste your nights and time on listening to the stories about ungrateful colleagues, men, and children for the umpteenth time instead of devoting this time to your family, yourself or just to sleep. Being vacant ears and a shoulder to cry is good if it doesn’t become a system.

Don’t try to solve the problems of friends, it can turn out that there are no problems and need to solve them but a person has to just make the right question and google it.

Don’t sacrifice your interests where such sacrifice is required of you. Beginning with a prompt departure to advise, what coat to buy for mother, or help to make a menu for the anniversary of another’s wife. Advise when you are really interested, it’s important for you and you have time for it.

Don’t let the relatives and friends unconditionally and unlimitedly use your personal resource. You don’t owe anybody. Anybody except for yourself.

Respond to a request for help if this is truly a sincere request and they can’t do without you. Don’t allow to pull your strings and don’t be misled by the feeling of guilt which is cultivated in us.

Be able to clearly articulate your own need for help. People don’t have to guess what was on your mind at that time when you said you were okay.

And most importantly, remember: no is also the answer.

Zoya Kazanzhy

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