“Yes” is an incredibly powerful word.
As a response to a question, it usually pleases the questioner. Common examples:
“Will you marry me?”
“Do you want to [activity] with me?”
And, when asked of the political leader:
“Do you support my position?”
In most cases, we know as soon as we are asked the question what the response will be to our “yes” (and, conversely, to our “no”). This near-certainty can create a considerable amount of stress when we believe that our answer should be “no” or, at a minimum, that it shouldn’t be an unqualified “yes.”
One common response to this stress is to say “yes” anyway. In politics, we call this pandering. As each interested group or individual seeks and secures a brief audience with us, they ask for our support and we give it. They leave satisfied. We secure some additional political support. What’s not to like about that?
Commitments are a kind of social and political capital. Like other forms of capital, we have a limit to how much of it we have to invest. The more we say “yes,” the less of this capital we can spend on any one person or project. The less capital we invest in a given person or project, the less impact we have.
Often when life coaches and counselors talk or write about this, they work on empowering us to say “no.” That’s solid advice. For some of us, simply getting comfortable with the idea that we have the right to say “no” is an essential victory in the battle for a fully self-actualized life.
Still, I think there is good reason to emphasize the “yes” instead of the “no.” Rather than thinking of what we are withholding from others, perhaps we should think of what an extraordinary gift our “yes” should be.
I remember, many years ago, spending time meeting with our congressional delegation soliciting their support for an important project. Some were quick to say “yes,” which gratified us.
Then there was Senator Bob Graham.
Senator Graham asked smart questions. He listened attentively to our answers. When we were through, he thanked us for taking the time to help him understand what we were trying to accomplish. And he made a commitment: that he would take our request seriously.
Later, when he gave us his “yes,” we knew we had his full support. Furthermore, we knew that we were doing something worthwhile, because we had earned his “yes” on the merits, not the moment. His “yes” carried greater weight with us and others for having been hard-won.
I propose we make 2017 the year of “yes.” Not to saying “yes” a lot, but to saying “yes” so that it matters a lot.
Our “yes” should be an expression of our conviction of the merit of what we have agreed to. It also should be a promise of our investment of ourselves.
The year of meaningful “yes.” I’ll say “yes” to that!