No. NO. NO!

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.” ― Henry David Thoreau



Sometimes before we can say “Yes,” we have to say “No.” If you have been around a toddler for any length of time you know just how strong the push to learn to say “no” can be. It seems to be wired into us, and is a crucial part of our development.

I remember when my son was a toddler; I asked him if he wanted a piece of a banana. He shook his head back and forth, looked in my eyes, said “NO!” all the while reaching out to take the banana. I think this has stayed in my mind, not just because of the incongruity, but also because it became a bit of a turning point for me in terms of really understanding that learning to say “no” is a process. We aren’t born knowing how to protest.  It’s a skill we have to learn over time.

Somewhere along the way, “no” became a dirty word, especially for women. While I can’t remember ever having been told that I shouldn’t say “no” (except to sex, drugs, and rock and roll), I was admonished (both overtly and covertly) to be more agreeable or pleasant.  This was code for “be a nice girl, don't make a fuss, and do what others want.”

As adults we might be more sophisticated in our protests but we often have parts of us that still need to say “no” before they can say “yes.” Sometimes clients need my permission to loudly and emphatically say “no”—and sometimes even “Hell No.” This might look like a long list of reasons why they cannot make changes in their life, or even anger that I might suggest that I see hope in their story. Or it might be saying "no" to things that were done to us as children or things that are happening in their adult life that they are afraid to protest.

In an odd paradox, change is often made possible when we protest making the the very change that we desire.

  • What do you remember about the messages around saying “no” when you were growing up?
  • What are you saying “no” to right now?
  • What are you not saying “yes” to?