“No.” It’s A Complete Sentence (5048)

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“I’m sorry I can’t, I just don’t want to.”

I’ve long known that “NO” is a complete sentence, but it doesn’t mean I’ve practiced it. Largely because people can be very impolite. And pushy!

Not long ago I told somebody I would not be present at an event. Pressed I truthfully said I had some things that required my attention before heading out of town. The pressing and ridicule began. A common tactic of people. I dug in and exclaimed with greater force, “I will not be there and you won’t shame me into attending.” No is indeed a complete sentence.

Dr. Henry Cloud is likely known as the father of boundaries. Read his books including Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life. Each of us has to determine and establish the boundaries that serve us. That doesn’t mean we give each other the Heisman pose. It does mean we display enough grace to each other that we stop thinking only of ourselves and quit pressuring people to do what WE want them to do.

I posted this over at Facebook just recently.

Social media is N-O-T-O-R-I-U-S for poor behavior. Even by decent or good people. The whole “IBK” (idiot behind keyboard) mindset sometimes captivates any of us. We get stupid. Some more quickly than others.

Not long ago a buddy of mine posted something that any reasonable person would have realized was very innocuous. In Messenger, a person took issue exclaiming she was “offended” because he had used the phrase “stinky people.” 😉

No grace. No consideration. No thoughtfulness. No mindfulness. Just an exclamation that she was offended. It was a joke about a king who has been dead for 400 years and an anonymous man. It wasn’t directed at her or any particular group of people. Hello Thin Skin, meet offense!

He was quite measured in his response. Not sure I would’ve been. Mostly because I often feel like the ninnies need a battle. Else, they’ll always win. And we’re severely outnumbered by them as it is. They’re growing by leaps and bounds. Purveyors of wisdom appear to be shrinking, in spite of our collective efforts here at LTW.

Reminder: SurroundedByNinnies.com is a domain I own. Click on it and check it out. 

“NO” isn’t a hateful response. Why do people who hear it think so? Because they’re selfish ninnies. They’re giving no consideration to the person who says, “No.” They’re brassy enough to think they DESERVE an explanation. You owe them. Or so they think.

No, you don’t.

Intentions play a role. So do expectations. So let’s think about those two notions, but let’s do it reverse order.

Expectations

The reality of expectations is our perceptions. We perceive things the way we perceive them. Is that ingrained in us? Is it unchangeable? It’s a debate, but this much appears true. Humans appear to be made of love (those of us who believe in God and the Word of God already believe this truth). Love is the number one addiction of all people.

Cardiovascular disease is the number killer. But lack of love – and the stress created by it – likely kill many, many more.

God designed us this way. To crave and seek love. To express that love toward others.

Increasingly, brain scientists believe we’re built to see the glass half full. Neuroscientists tell us we’re born with a perfect core genetic code. We make choices and those choices impact our DNA. So our perfection can have negative genes piled on top of them, but those imperfect genes resulting from previous generations are closed or dormant. Those imperfect or negative perceptions are learned. The environment wakes up those negative genes.

Two children can grow up in an identical environment but result in completely different ways of life. Because all of us, every minute of every day engage in thinking, feeling and choosing. Choosing to think negatively launches negative perceptions which will drive negative behavior.

People can be saved from themselves, but only when they decide for themselves. Community helps. In fact, community is critical.

This all impacts what we expect, especially what we expect from others!

Expectation is an important element of human interaction.

The brain is constantly filled with energy unless we’re dead. That energy can be positive or negative. We can choose to think either way.

Thinking grows our brains. Which is why I’m no longer a fan of that phrase, “over-thinking.” That’s not what we’re doing. We may be obsessing, but thinking moves us in a positive direction because it’s how we grow our brain.

Learning something is effective. Learning it well enough to teach it ourselves is perhaps the most effective. It expands our brainpower at a very high level.

Who you are is uniquely YOU. Everybody is different. Those differences are varied and mostly immeasurable. Our similarities are extensive, too.

Yale research has determined there is no “normal” brain. People have the capacity to become what they’re interested in. That’s determined by us individually. In spite of my fascination with personality assessments or some type of categorization, I know these things are merely tools. I’m growing less interested in them (not fully), but I’ve concluded they may be more harmful than useful because we can pigeonhole ourselves and others.

In the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, I’m an INFJ. I can easily see how that fits. It’s congruent with my own viewpoint or perspective. My own expectations about who I am, if you please.

MRI technology appears to have contributed to wrecking what we may actually know to be true in the human brain. Extensive study has been devoted to finding out if MRI technology can truly measure what’s happening in the brain. The overwhelming results seem to disprove it.

This much seems to be true…we can’t currently understand what’s going on inside the human mind. Because all of us, every minute of every day engage in thinking, feeling and choosing. And that’s all individual no matter what assessments reveal. I rather think most assessments, especially SELF-assessments, reveal what we think and feel about ourselves. In that regard, I can see their value. Of course, those self-examinations have a high probability of being wrong (wrong being defined as not entirely true). Your truth is your truth though. If you perceive – and expect – something of yourself, then that’s your reality.

Our accuracy in fully understanding or predicting what others will do is impacted by how long we’ve known them. I’ve been married to the same woman for almost 42 years. Yet some neuroscientists will say I’ve still got a 30% chance of wrongly predicting what she might do. My success rate of 70% is only because of how well I know her. Why? Because we’re humans. Predicting how my wife may perceive something, what she may think, how she may feel and what she may choose to do can’t be relegated to some scientific, exact science. She’s a person and those are uniquely her own. They can also change.

It explains why one person can say something to you and you think nothing of it. Somebody might say the same thing – or something very similar – and it goes all over you! It’s perception.

We choose how we’ll feel. We decide on our perception. We build our own expectations.

A person posts something on social media updating people on recent activities in his work. It’s a perfectly fine post lacking a braggart tone, but directly speaking to various accomplishments, achievements, challenges, and hopes for the coming new year. The comments flow and are supportive. Then there’s one that stands out and hits an out-of-tune chord with the poster. The person merely comments, “Congratulations!” It lands on a sour note. Immediately the poster senses sarcasm and intent on the part of the commentator to take a jab. Maybe. Maybe not.

A different person could read that same comment and reply with, “Thank you. I appreciate it.” What’s the difference?

Perception. The way we see things. That includes the way we hear things.

There’s no more effort required to see it – perceive it – one way versus the other. Just like the glass half full or half empty. Same visual effort required to draw either conclusion. But some choose to view it one way while others choose to see it differently.

A couple of things might happen. The person could decide, with likely great effort, to reframe how they see the comment. They could assume it was a genuine note of congratulations. That would likely change their emotions instantly. Rather than feeling picked on, or made fun of they’d feel congratulated. A very different feeling.

They could decide to find out. To seek a better understanding so they could know what the commentator intended. That’s gonna take some work. Sometimes we’d rather not do that. Perhaps we feel we’d appear petty if we did that. For whatever reason, we might choose we’re going to avoid finding out the real truth behind the comment. Which is perfectly okay.

Question: Are we better off choosing to feel slighted or honestly congratulated?

Which one fosters growth? Which one fosters a better outcome for us? Which one, if we’re wrong, provides the most ideal outcome?

Thinking the worst or thinking the best? Expecting the worst or the best?

It’s about the meaning we ascribe to things. Especially external things. Like a Facebook comment.

I often talk about wiring. I’ll say things, “I’m wired to (fill in the blank).” Am I though? What if that’s just how I perceive myself? Does it matter? If I think it, it’s true so far as I’m concerned. If I think I’m wired a certain way it doesn’t mean that’s factually true, but it does mean practically it is. Again the expectations we form for ourselves and others come into play.

My wife frequently tells me, “You’re expecting too much.” The context is expecting others to perform at a higher level. For instance, somebody can perform some task and I might remark, “He can do better.” She’ll say, “I’m not sure about that. I think he may be doing as good as he can.”

Neither of us is being critical. She’s choosing to see that person’s talent or effort as all they can do. I’m choosing to see that person hasn’t applied themselves as well as they can. Which of us is right? We’re both right. I may be more disappointed, but I’m also more hopeful. I think things can always be made better. She doesn’t choose to believe that.

We’re both intelligent people, but we’ve each decided what we’ll think, feel and choose. Everybody does. It’s our individualism.

Understanding is another term I need to insert, but let’s wait and save that for last because we’ve not yet talked about INTENTIONS. They’re tied because sometimes we fail to accurately understand intentions.

The title of today’s show is merely an illustration of how poorly we can behave toward each other. Not when we say, “No,” but when people resent (and react) to our single word sentence and choose to push boundaries rather than respect them.

Consideration. Grace. Giving allowance. These are the real issues. People frequently fail to be thoughtful toward each other. Can we do better? Yes, I expect so. My wife may not think so, but I’m hopeful. 😉

Intentions

Sometimes we intend to hurt others. Sometimes we don’t. Intentions are like any other thoughts – we can see them as being bad and harmful or we can view them as being good and helpful. Maybe some place in between.

I’m not naive. People too frequently think intentions are bad. Probably because they often are and maybe we think there’s no downside to holding such thoughts. I mean, if somebody means ill then we’d best get busy thinking it so. But what if we’re wrong?

Let’s back up just a bit, but we move forward.

Those people with whom we’re very close ought to be those to whom we’re able to give the most consideration. After all, we know them best. Which may be why we sometimes feel as though we KNOW their intentions aren’t good. Here during the holiday season families endure some of the highest strife of the year. Fussing and fighting preclude any chance for family harmony.

But what if we’re wrong? What if the probabilities are correct that indicate after 42 years of marriage my intuition about my own wife has a 30% chance of being wrong? Then how accurate do you suppose your intuition is about that brother-in-law you see twice a year? Or that uncle you see just once a year? Nevermind the complete stranger who may chime in on a Facebook or Instagram post.

I’d like to improve my odds. Especially my odds of accurately ascribing intentions to somebody’s words or actions.

The choices seem fairly binary to me. I can ascribe evil intentions, good intentions (or something in between) or I can find out. Ascribing evil intentions don’t foster in me anything good. Maybe my feelings are hurt. Maybe I get angry. Maybe I grow resentful and bitter. How am I helped by any of those feelings?

Ascribing good intentions is much better, but I know the fear. What if I’m wrong? What they really meant ill? Stop and think about this. We get anxious because we don’t want to extend grace to the undeserving. If they intended to hurt us and we failed to feel hurt because we thought better of them…well, that’s completely unacceptable! Why?

There’s little logic to it. It’s just how we choose to think, feel and choose. We make up our minds how we’re going to look at it. Perception is a choice!

I’ve been misjudged by people who know I love them. People who I’ve proven I will support…at a high cost. People who know I’m safe. People who have trusted me in confidence. But in one instance where I may extend a challenge against something they want to do, but something I know may harm them…they suddenly ascribe to me things they know (logically) are untrue. As though this one time my intentions are different than all the other times prior. Now, they choose to think my intention is to inflict harm. In a heightened emotional state, they decide they want to feel victimized. There’s that randomness of the human mind at work. And it explains why people can behave in very unpredictable ways. Even people we think we know well. Even people we know well. And people we love.

A mind is a busy place. 

Lots going on in there. Filled with false assumptions. Incorrect notions. Judgments. Thinking, feeling and choosing. All based on how we choose to look at the world and our place in it.

How else can you explain the vast differences in how people respond to the terrible things that happen to them? Some overcome. Others suffer as victims. Some achieve satisfaction, even joy. Others embark on a lifetime of bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and envy. All because we make our choices.

Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”

In other words, “as he is all along in his heart, so is he (at last) in act.” Our actions match our thoughts and feelings. Our thoughts and feelings follow our perceptions. That ought to give you an idea of the importance (and urgency) our perspective. It’s why we need the help of others…to make sure we’re seeing things as they truly are.

But that takes work. The work of…

Understanding

The impediments to understanding are prejudice, pride, and self-righteousness. We have to exert lots of mental power to achieve a successful pursuit of understanding.

Understanding ourselves and the changes that may be required if we’re going to grow — it demands a lot of mind power. We can do it, but it’s not easy. Change (growth) is possible no matter the obstacles. We have to want it badly enough to do it though.

“The self-righteous scream judgments against others to hide the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets.”
― John Mark Green

We CAN better understand ourselves.

We CAN better understand each other.

First, we have to want to. Then we have to be willing to pay the higher price understanding demands. Our laziness is rewarded with misunderstanding. Our zeal is rewarded with understanding.

Talking to each other. Listening to each other. That’s the genesis of understanding. Communication.

Social media can be so destructive because it’s just too easy. There’s no friction to slow down our foolishness. We can be impulsive, reactionary and stupid. Nothing stands in our way. Unless we exercise sufficient self-discipline to slow down our thoughts, feelings, and choices enough to behave more wisely.

A Facebook commenter irks us. We gather our thoughts and emotions. We choose to seek understanding instead of whatever negative emotions might overrun us.

As we pause our negative emotions we make up our mind to think the best, but to find out the truth. It accomplishes good on multiple fronts. It provides the other person the opportunity to have us understand them and their intentions without surmising or assuming. And it also provides the opportunity to confront poor behavior, if indeed they’re guilty of ill-intentions. There’s no downside if it’s done well.

“I wanted to talk to you about that post I made. I noticed you made a comment, but I have a question, “How did my post strike you?” I want to properly understand your comment.”

They might lie. They might tell you the truth. You have no control over that.

They might tell you they were genuinely happy at your post and commented in a way hoping to let you know how happy they were.

Just here you can choose to think and feel whatever you’d like. You might think, “Liar. I know you really were being hateful.” You might think, “Well, I’m glad I asked because I may have always thought they were really being hateful.” Again, you’ll think whatever you choose to. Choose wisely.

What can you control?

What can’t you control? Other people. Sometimes you can’t control external circumstances.

But you can control yourself. Not easily maybe, but you can do it. We all can.

Your mind. That’s on you. Your thoughts. Your feelings. Your choices. Your actions. Those are all within your power.

You can do easy or you can do hard until it becomes easier. Least resistance ways of life are easy but destructive. Like feeling victimized. Like refusing to make a choice. Like running away. Like hiding. Like blaming. Like making excuses. All these things are super easy requiring zero self-discipline.

The hard stuff can become easier if we work at it. It’ll be insanely difficult at first, but it’ll make our life so much better. Most of what we hope for is achievable when we put in the work. Devotion to ourselves, and putting in the work can make it easier and easier to keep on keeping on.

Others.

We can’t control them. This is why the title of today’s show is useful to illustrate how we allow others to negatively impact us. Don’t misunderstand. We need others. We need connection and collaboration. We also need to better manage the ninnies who surround us. The people with whom we can’t be safe. The people who don’t have our best interests at heart.

The hard stuff is made harder because we can be concerned with what others think. Or what they say. Or what they do. Even though we have NO CONTROL over any of those things.

Self-discipline, self-control — those continue to be THE things that provide high value in your life. SELF. YOU. Not them. Not anybody else.

Fear. Thinking the worst. Loss of hope.

These produce thoughts, feelings, and choices that destroy us.

What do you want to do? What do you want to avoid doing?

These are the things you have to be courageous enough to say, “NO” to. And “NO” is a complete sentence. No explanation required. Don’t be offended if others seek understanding. If judgment is their purpose, you can figure it out and act appropriately. Helping people understand us and our context is helpful. Helping people judge us is harmful to both of us. You get to decide.

“YES” is also a complete sentence.

You’re saying YES or NO to yourself right now. You’re believing in yourself or you’re not. You’re putting in the work to grow or you’re not.

This is where running or hiding causes us severe harm. It damages us at our core. Erodes our confidence. And our hope. Enabling us to fully embrace being victims. A vicious cycle.

Skirmishes can defeat us. Forget the major war. The smallest little firefight slays us. We’re not tough enough. Mental toughness doesn’t happen without enduring the struggle. Successfully. Resilience doesn’t appear after a brief time. It demands a long-term, sustained effort.

What’s your problem?

Why is it your problem?

Because you’ve surrendered control that rightfully belongs to YOU. You feel pressured to give an explanation to your “NO” because you’re not being responsible enough with your life.

Struggling isn’t the same as suffering. Unless you make it that way. Victims suffer. They choose to suffer. Resilient people struggle. They push through adversity to find growth, improvement and greater self-discipline.

Do the work on yourself. No matter what others think, feel or do. Begin it now. For yourself and for your family. For your friends and those who need your help.

Put pressure on what you think is true. Don’t accept a friction-free life. It’s not worth living. It’ll be devoid of hopes and dreams. It’ll be a low-ambition life. Sure, it may be safe — well, it’ll feel safe, but it’s a lie. It’s a deadly lie. You’re not safe taking the easy path. Thieves run amock all along the easy path robbing people of their dreams and fullest potential.

Lord willing, 2020 is going to be a breakout year for me because some time ago I made up my mind. I decided on some things. I figured out some things to say “NO” to and I also figured out some other things to say “YES” to. Professionally I talked about it in my final episode of the year to the work podcast over at GrowGreat.com.

Professionally, after being distracted for too long I’ve decided to say “NO” to most things. I’m saying “YES” to forming a charter peer advisory group of 8 small to medium-sized business owners from around America. It’s an online group that will meet regularly. That’s my top business priority. Secondly, I’m devoted to working with leaders in group facilitation. Both of these are congruent with the one big idea that I determined to say “YES” to — the power of others!

The Power Of Others

You’re seeing the theme emerge. It’s about us, but it’s also about our interaction with other people.

Humans have the capacity to inflict tremendous damage on each other. We also have the ability to extend extraordinary grace to one another and help each other.

We get to decide which it will be.

2018 was a year unlike any others for me personally. The events aren’t terribly important. It was a year where I became more aware of how the trajectory of a person’s life can change. Suddenly. You’ve seen this happen. Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself.

We tend to make big changes in our lives following big or catastrophic lapel-shaking events.

The smoker gets curable lung cancer. She makes up her mind to stop smoking. Just like that. She’s literally scared straight when it comes to her smoking habit.

The executive who doesn’t bother taking care of his health morphs, seemingly overnight, into a diet and fitness freak. All because chest pains revealed some reversible health challenges…but only if he’ll get his act together. So he does.

A couple has no awareness of the disease until it strikes one of their children. Months of extended treatment and the fear of losing a child give the couple a brand new mission. To help this disease get greater visibility so people will donate money to help provide a cure. They devote their lives to something only 16 months ago they knew nothing about.

Something happens and a switch was flipped. A new interest. A renewed interest. It happens just like THAT.

Has that ever happened to you? Me neither. Until 2018.

Epiphanies. That’s what these are. I suspect most of us go through life rarely experiencing them. I think I’ve had a few. Not many, but a few. The biggest ones have occurred since the summer of 2018 when life threw me a curveball. Then some fastballs that seemed to grow faster over time until 2019 sent me deeply devoted to the effort best summed up with this sentence:

Who you surround yourself with matters.

Disagreement isn’t the issue. Neither is conflict.

Being thoughtful is the deal. Exercising mindfulness. Being considerate. Working to understand.

For me, it’s always been about deeper conversations. Safe relationships where others trust me enough to lean on me. It’s work that I’ve done exhaustively for the past 20 plus years (longer really, but in earnest since 2000). The focus has mostly been in an area of FAITH. Yes, I’m a religious guy, but you know that already.

The first epiphany occurred about 4-5 years ago when I became convinced that few things trump the power of making sure we’re surrounded by the people who can and will serve us. People who have our very best interests at heart. People who can challenge us, encourage us and correct us. People who love us that much.

I’ve always know this truth, but professionally I was exposed to it in a different context – a professional peer advisory group. I was in the throes of that conversion when the summer of 2018 changed things. Now I began to think more deeply about the power of others in spiritual terms. Again, I’d long known this.

1 Corinthians 15:33 “Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals.”

But now I saw this (poor associations) – and other things- negatively impact somebody I loved. I saw the negative impact of pain killers, opioids and emotional struggles rob the good character of somebody. The compass went haywire and it focused me unlike anything had ever focused me on THE POWER OF OTHERS.

I grew intensely focused on human kindness versus human cruelty. On human compassion versus human judgment. On human grace and understanding versus human criticality and hypocrisy.

I grew increasingly intrigued by my own behavior. Hours and hours, weeks and months of self-examination. I’m not better than you. Truth is, I may not be as good as you. But thankfully this isn’t a head-to-head competition. It’s a competition against our best self.

My conversations seemed to often steer toward subjects like empathy, understanding, compassion, judgment, self-righteousness, arrogance, ridicule and all the positive and negative things we’re all capable of perpetrating on one another. It was during this window of time, since 2018, that #CravingEncouragement was born. I realized how critical it is for each of us to have people around us who won’t hurt us, but instead will go to great lengths to help us.

And even though I’ve now ditched project #CravingEncouragement I know it’s important. I know right now the odds are great that YOU need some encouragement. I also know the odds are great that you have something important (perhaps urgent) that you’d desperately love to share with somebody. But you’re afraid. And lonely. Because there isn’t anybody with whom you feel safe enough to share. So you’re going it alone. It’s eating you alive. And it will win unless you figure out that somebody somewhere can help you.

At the risk of sounding arrogant (and you know me well enough to know I’m not), I’m THAT guy. It’s grown more clear over the past few years. I’m the guy who runs into that burning building – the lives of people in trouble, or suffering, or challenged, or lonely, or suffering. I found myself, for the first time in a very long time, suffering to understand people filled with judgment, harshness, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and all the other negative emotions that any of us can CHOOSE to feel.

Empathy drives understanding. The real horsepower is compassion. I struggled to understand all the times when I didn’t see compassion displayed. Then I spent months deeply depressed. Depressed at the truth that we can use others to feel better about ourselves. Namely, we can feel better about ourselves at the expense of others. The suffering or demise of others can make us feel better about ourselves, even though it changes NOTHING in our lives. That put me in a major funk that I wasn’t sure I could ever escape. Spiritually, I leaned on four men (I talk about it on my business-related podcast, here). Personally and professionally, I didn’t lean on anybody. I put up a wall to protect myself after enduring some body blows.

We choose what we think, feel and do. 

Intellectually I knew that was true. Emotionally I didn’t. Until my most recent epiphany last week. Out of nowhere, it hit me. Life flipped my switch and illuminated my mind. I got my mind right.

I have no idea why things sometimes take so long. This particular journey lasted about 8 years as I watched the downward slide of somebody I love very much.

We choose what we think, feel and do. All of us.

If we choose to crash our life, we can do that. If we choose to disrupt our life, we can do that, too. I choose to improve my life. For the past year, I’ve spent thousands of hours wrestling with ways to best do that. It has permeated every facet of my life. Spiritually. Personally. Professionally.

Along the way I’ve learned “NO” is a complete sentence. That I have to do what I have to do no matter what others may do. Or say. And that doesn’t mean what some may think. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about the insights, experiences, challenges or corrections of others. It’s just the opposite of that actually.

Four men had my very best spiritual interest at heart over the past 18 months. Well, truthfully they’ve had my best interests at heart for as long as they’ve known me. Three of them have known me my entire life. Those dangerous old men I talked about in the last show.

I listened to them. Because I knew I was vulnerable and susceptible to faulty thinking. So I leaned hard on their wisdom knowing they were watching out for me. I choose to take advantage of their love and concern. I didn’t have to, but I’m thankful I did.

Some other people fell out of my life and that too was my choice. People who demonstrated a lack of compassion and people with whom I knew I wasn’t safe. I make a choice to live without them. I said, “No.” And it was a complete sentence.

Others were folks I grew even closer to. I said, “Yes.” That too was a complete sentence. It made a bigger difference.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s wrap this up with a question…one that has perplexed me for a very long time.

How are we made better when we bite and devour each other? 

I realize not everybody sees their behavior for what it really is. That person who decides to blast somebody in social media isn’t likely thinking about being better. Or making anybody else feel better. She’s just being ugly and hateful because her venom needs to go somewhere. She’s filled with it. We may find that it’s the habit of her life. Making sure everybody knows how she feels about everything that offends her. I hope it makes her feel better, but I doubt it does. I rather think it just forges more firmly the habit of her life and I’m sad for her. I’m sad for those of us in her path, too. We all lose. Her decision to not live well has a cost on us all.

What value is derived by not choosing wisely what we think, feel and do?

Conversely, I know Mr. Dickens got it right when he said…

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

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