As children we're taught that there are some words that we shouldn't say. Nice children say "yes", "please" and "thank you". Only in very rare circumstances is a polite refusal allowed.
In improv theatre, the utmost holy mantra is the concept of "yes, and...". Every improv game move is an offer to be embraced and built upon. Refusing someone's idea is a metaphoric slap in the face that will get you chased out of improv-town.
The art of refusal, is a lost art.
Every year I try to go one month without drinking alcohol. To many this might be a minor accomplishment, but: I'm from Glasgow. My Scottish liver does backflips that need at least weekly sedation. At the time of writing, I will have just ended a period of two months of alcohol abstention. As a special bonus, this year has been coupled with a stint of volitional celibacy.
Now, I can't take full credit this year for the alcohol part. A pesky thyroid and some Doomsday advice from of a couple of doctors were at least semi-responsible for that. But still I feel at least mildly proud.
My normal abstention month runs in the September-November timeframe. I've done it every year since 2010. I repeat it at this time of year to a) dry out my liver before Christmas and b) avoid the communal ease of attributing it to Lent.
This abstention isn't because of religious custom or because I believe that either alcohol or sex are bad, evil, or even best avoided for a happy and tranquil life. I enjoy alcohol. And I enjoy sex.
I do it because it's practice in saying no. The first two weeks of every abstinence period are always more challenging than I remember, and remind me of how often I do these actions without thinking. They are automatic responses; often due to stress or peer pressure. Or due to a lack of intimacy.
Alcohol becomes a Friday evening "reward" for a long week at work. Then it becomes a Wednesday evening reward for a tough day. Or a Tuesday evening reward for a difficult meeting. It becomes a polite acceptance to have "just one more" from a friend's fridge, when really I'd prefer a cup of fennel tea. It becomes the only way to feel comfortable in a bar.
Similarly, I crave sex the most when there's a lack of intimacy in my life. When I feel out of touch with myself or isolated from friends.
Again, I'm not hating on either alcohol or sex. When I'm in a good frame of mind, both can be an amazing compliment to life. But as trite as it sounds, relearning to say "no" helps me to reset the switch. And to put myself back in charge.
"No" is often portrayed as a challenge to authority. Or as a direct means to hurt someone else's feelings. But "no" is not a zero-sum game. The fact that one person doesn't participate or partake is not a threat to anyone else. Accepting all offers is a good way to live your life cleaning up after people. And to be unhappy. "No" is the sign of a healthy boundary. And maybe something we all need to say and hear a little more. We don't need to hear "yes" all the time from all the people.
So here's hoping you don't like this.