The Way I Was Raised: Accepting “No”

It would be easy to dive into the importance of saying, “Thank You” to kick off the modern manners posts. I mean, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and it’s a great time to remind people to polish off their gratitude, but I hate easy. Instead, let’s talk about “no”.

Thanks to so many technological advances, we are more closely connected than we’ve ever been. I can begin any given day by wishing my friend Julie a cheerful “Good Morning, Pooh!” in New Zealand, and she can see that message immediately (and then, of course, curse me immediately while muttering something about respecting the time difference and how I’d better be texting I won the lottery. But really who’s at fault? Me or the person who had their notifications turned up loud enough that it would disturb their sleep? Oh, still me? Hmph.) The fact I can annoy someone at an inappropriate time, half-way around the globe is amazing. Thanks to satellites and submarine communication cables, we’ve become this well-connected world. We can set-aside those dusty atlases and decades-old volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and experience new people, learn new things, and see our living planet in real-time – not through the lens of some stuffy entitled British explorer. (To my stuffy, entitled British readers. I’m American. That’s really my only excuse. I’d apologize, but you made us. Thanks.) It’s all incredibly cool when you take a step back and really think about it. Gone are the days where we’d have to bargain for more library time just to explore another culture – another person’s thoughts/perspectives. 

As a kid, I deeply envied my friends who had pen-pals who lived in foreign places. They received letters in these cool airmail envelopes with their exotic stamps from another kid who was living a wholly different life, having different experiences than our own. These lucky friends got to talk to them – got to hear their stories. Now I can simply send off an email to another country and have a near-real-time conversation (and let them know I’m a Princess in Texas who will give them millions, but first I need them to wire me several thousand dollars). It’s fantastic!

As we’ve grown closer, we’ve also become more comfortable sharing who we are – from our successes to our struggles – from our toes wiggling next to carefully placed fruity drinks on a beach to our emotional challenges. We’ve moved into a world where there are fewer strangers – we “see” each other more, and we tell ourselves we’re more enlightened, more accepting, and more understanding.

This post is for enlightened, accepting, understanding you as we head into the holidays. This is for the you who gets “it” – the hyper-empathetic you who feel all the feels – the “woke” you. This post is for the you who gives a thumbs-up and a heart every time a friend, near friend or that guy from your class expresses themselves. You who wish you had emoticon stickers so that when you’re forced to interact with an actual person, and they say something great, you could just reach over and slap a “Haha!” sticker on their shirt. (Note to self: sketch idea – who wants to help me write that?)

I’m writing to tell you, it’s ok for someone to tell you “no”.

You know their story, you’ve read their posts/status updates, you’ve talked to them in the halls or in a class. You feel comfortable with them because you feel a closeness – you “get” them, you enjoy them, and you invite them into your life. Then one day you extend an invitation to a gathering, to dinner, to any number of things because you want to include them more, and they just said, “no.” It can feel like a slap on the hand, and many of us have a bad habit of internalizing rejections. We make that “no” about us. How could they say “no” to this terrific idea? I’m including them. Don’t they appreciate me and this great opportunity?

We’re pretty fantastic and we definitely have the best ideas, so a “no” can be challenging to understand. Why wouldn’t someone want to be a part of this thing we invited them to do – to be part of us? Our spastic brain gerbils kick into overdrive, “They must not like me! That’s the only answer!” Then we take a moment to list all the ways that we’ve been terrific friends, “look at all the things I’ve done and I’m asking is just this small thing.”

Well my amazing friend, a “no” isn’t necessarily a rejection of you.

You’ve read their posts/status updates, you’ve talked to them in the halls or in a class. (You’ve read this sentence before.) You know their story. You also understand that people are fairly self-focused. At any given moment only a fraction of our thoughts are devoted to others – with obvious exceptions and to obvious degrees. A lot of what we do is based on our own needs. So, my point is this: When someone says “no” think of five reasons why they may have said “no” that has nothing to do with you. Think back to the time that person posted repeatedly, whether in their own words or in a meme, “I’m an introvert; it takes a lot of energy to be around big groups of people.” “I lost <friend/relative/beloved pet> and my heart is wounded.” “I’m struggling with a health/mental health issue that prevents me from doing things/being around people.” “I just got back from <someplace outside of their house>, and I am looking forward to some downtime.”

After Jay died, I told several people I didn’t feel like sending out Christmas cards. (Christmas cards used to be my thing.) One friend decided what I was saying was: 1) I didn’t want to receive Christmas cards, and 2) I didn’t like sending her Christmas cards. I know this may be surprising, but my Christmas card stance was never about anyone else other than me. I was saying “no” to certain aspects of Christmas, but not “no” to people.

Really listen to the person who is saying, “no.”

If it’s still important to you that you do something with them/for them, then I challenge you to try and find another option. If big crowds aren’t their thing, if they’re struggling with loss or depression, if they’re covered from head-to-toe in a body rash, or are having a huge acne flare-up, and the cheap hair dye turned their hair a dusky green, then maybe you visit with them one-on-one – maybe you send them a text or call them on the phone. You flex those empathy muscles and show them you heard them, you understand, and you’re still there for them – willing to compromise, but showing you still want to include them. Show that you “heard” them.

And share your own needs, too. If something is important to you, then express it. Their “no” could be that they didn’t realize you needed them – that what your’e asking is something that matters.

Let’s all agree to work on listening, communicating, and and not making assumptions when it comes to “no’s.” Let’s pull our egos out of the equation. Instead, think of “no” as an opportunity – an opportunity to grow in our understanding of each other.

The Way I Was Raised: An Idea!

There are three things I’m good at (only three): my handwriting, my smile, and my manners. At least these are the things I tend to receive the most compliments on. Although to be fair, I occasionally get a “Hey, your hair looked really great yesterday” or (true story) from last week, “You’re starting to look sexy.” Oh backhanded compliments, you’re so delightful! I also don’t sweat much for a fat girl. (Ok, that’s a total lie. I have sweaty knees. These are things you learn from going to a gym regularly or reading my blog. You’re very welcome for that shared moment.)

Basically, what I’m trying to impart is that I have a lot of great qualities that would serve me extremely well in the early 1800’s at the prairie school. Back it on up, Mrs. Wilder!

Well, it turns out I can’t really write a succession of blog posts about my handwriting. I mean, I could. It would be similar to watching the world’s dullest Sesame Street episode – one that was devoid of cute rhymes or catchy tunes. They would likely focus on a single letter, and there would be zero puppets to make you feel ok about your particular place in the world or your relationships with friends and family. And by the end of the post you’d find yourself in a rather awkward conversation, trying to explain yourself to friends and family, “No, I’m reading this lady’s blog and today we’re focusing on capital M’s… no, I don’t know why… The Office reruns weren’t cutting it? Guilt maybe? It’s like an alphabet train wreck I can’t seem to look away from! SPOILER ALERT: JIM AND PAM GET MARRIED! LEAVE ME ALONE! I need ice cream!”

I also can’t feature posts about my smile. Let’s face it, after one picture you’d either agree or disagree that I smiled well, then you’d start thinking, “Y’know, if I stare at it too long, it’s kind of creepy. Why is she smiling like that? Is the smile originating from inside my house? Halloween is bad enough, but now this? This smile? Like a red balloon hovering out of a gutter, beckoning me to approach, but more like an evil Cheshire cat. Where’s Alice?!?! I can’t escape!!!” By the way, when people say it’s one of the top three things I do well, that doesn’t mean as compared to other people – just a top three for me. “Beth, I dunno… I mean if you’re pressing me, I guess I’d say you’ve got good handwriting, and uhhhh… your… ummm… smile? Yeah, yeah, you’ve got a ‘nice’ smile? Hey, who likes Slurpees?? Slurpee run!” So, pump those breaks on that smile judgement!

Quick aside: Some of you may feel you now need to pay me some compliments. Nay nay. This is not a fishing trip, but thank you.

This leads me to manners – that third thing I get complimented on – that I’m apparently good at. Now if I’m honest, I think it’s likely a thing I get high marks on when you compare me to others. It’s not that my manners are flawless, or without fault. I mean, I still owe two thank-you cards from several years ago, I owe my closest friends a wedding gift from 19 years ago, and I’m being 100% honest when I say I still have some real guilt over that. I mean, clearly not guilty enough to see if I could unearth a two-decade-old wish list or send a card that read, “Remember that time you gave me… yeah, thank you for that!” But there’s guilt nonetheless. I may be on a personal mission to spoil their kids because I didn’t buy them a blender. Hey, I’m just saying blenders don’t hug or make me laugh like they do, so who really won out in the end? (Did I just make an argument on how being ill-mannered can pay off in the end? Oh dear. Ignore this part, ok?)

No, I really feel it’s that by comparison my manners just stick out. Also, I tend to sit up straight (yay orchestra years) and I usually manage not to hiss or make rude remarks at strangers. That should concern you if that’s all it takes for me to stand out among my peers, but you can clearly now see why I’m well-positioned to give practical advice on manners.

I ran the idea by my focus group (or Facebook followers, it’s practically the same; however, I feel “focus group” sounds so much more official – like I stuffed people into a room with overly-bright and flickering fluorescent lighting, loaded them up with Taster’s Choice and stale donuts, then projected a PowerPoint presentation called “The Way I Was Raised: An Inside Joke” against some wood paneling. Ok, I totally did that, but I offered up pillow mints instead of the donuts. Stale donuts are pricey! Then I collected the stubby pencils (why? why is there a market for overly short pencils that do not afford you the opportunity to erase if you need to? I have questions!), tallied the scorecards, and 23 people liked the idea. That’s right 23 people, who you don’t know, are subjecting you to this new “feature” on my blog. (Please feel free to leave your “thanks” in the comment section below.)

Then I ran the idea by a second focus group, my Aunt, and we now have a ladies agreement that I will not use this feature for evil. In other words, I will avoid skewering the family. It’s apparently not nice or the least bit fair no matter how well-deserved. I feel though that “family” really means “blood relations” despite what Merriam-Webster says, and that it’s open season for everyone else. (You really shouldn’t have been overtly rude to my cousin. Naughty, naughty.)

All of that said, here are a few of my thoughts: Gone are the days of Miss Manners, Emily Post or even Dear Abby. I’m sure a few of you are wondering who I’m even talking about. Let me pause a moment to address the youngest of our readers.

Dearest Millenials, we used to receive printed news that arrived at our house wrapped in cellophane and rubber bands. In fact, that’s where all household rubber bands came from – true story. In those “papers,” as we lovingly referred to them, were features from advice columnists who attempted to keep society from devolving into a chaotic, ill-mannered, anarchy. It was also a time when women who sought to be journalists were sidelined and their only hope of reaching a national audience was to help others with fork placement. They were beloved by a certain generation. Also, these women would probably quirk an eyebrow in my direction and politely pull me aside to let me know it’s rude to be patronizing. They are not wrong, so I do sincerely apologize.

Moving On

What I will try to do is post a monthly piece on modern manners that will be titled: “The Way I Was Raised,” which is a bit of an inside joke that will probably reveal itself over time, and I will switch up topics based on input/feedback I receive from you guys. I recognize you all have a wealth of ideas and stories from the humorous to the grrrs, and I’d love to incorporate them here.

So, what do you think? Are you up for some posts about manners from a person whose manners are probably questionable, but are at least in the top three things they personally offer this world?