The Power of No

As a parent of 19 consecutive years – and  36 cumulative years – I’ve learned a lot . I’ve developed some of my own parenting philosophies and strategies, which change with the years and situation. 

As we are in a society of plenty, at least here in the bubble in which I live (and sadly not so for much of the world, as I saw first hand when I volunteered in the refugee camps), I have found utility in saying no. 

There are lots of self-help articles about saying no when people request things of you, just to save your sanity and help you prioritize. This isn’t about that. This is about things like randomly saying no to my kids when they ask for something they don’t need and how that applies to my notion of self-discipline. 

For example, if we make a quick stop in Walgreens and my son asks if he can buy candy, I will sometimes agree, and I will sometimes say no.  Not because he has done something wrong and I am withholding. Not because I don’t have the extra $1. Not because candy is unhealthy and bad for your teeth (even though it is).  And not really to enforce my authority as a parent. But just to let him experience “no” and all that it entails. I have to acknowledge that this specific example reflects how truly blessed we are in having our external needs met; and that we are spoiled in that we have extra for unnecessary things as well. However, I believe the broader concept applies to our humanity in all walks of life.

In this world of YOLO and you-do-you, many of us have lost sight of the value of self-discipline. Restricting and limiting one’s self is an ancient skill that is often the first step to enlightenment. Many of us want to find our best selves, reach higher states, and perhaps have spiritual experiences. It’s popular to quote Rumi and talk about being zen. But we often don’t know how or don’t want to do the hard work required to walk that path. 

It’s not huge, and I don’t give a lecture with it, but one small contribution to my children’s development of self-control is requiring them to accept my “no” and experience the effect of not fulfilling that desire in themselves. 

In actuality, this is a lesson foremost for myself. I need to tell myself no more often.  I believe in self-care, but I think we are drowning in self-indulgence and that’s different. I don’t think giving ourselves everything we desire has made us happier. A look around at our society demonstrates that and there are studies to prove it. What this means for me practically is occasionally withholding things from myself that in other situations may be considered beneficial.  A perfect example is fasting, abstaining from food in order to achieve a higher state of self, which is part of many religious and spiritual traditions. Similarly, abstaining from things that feel good in the moment but don’t bring us closer to our long-term goals (such as binging on food or shows), and avoiding excessive leisure or comforts can build strength of character.  For some, like myself, controlling our tongue (or our fast-typing fingers) can be an important exercise in reflection.  We face urges and desires in all aspects of life, and while not all lead to dangerous territory, practicing self-restraint may build our willpower for the times we need it most.

How does the power of no apply in your life?  How can restricting yourself in some situations make you stronger in others?  These are questions I continue to ponder while looking for practical applications on the path to finding my best self.

2 thoughts on “The Power of No

  1. Iman Habbal says:

    I agree with this but my question is if we can say no to our kids when they will perceive it as random. To use your example, isn’t it confusing and arbitrary to say yes to a candy bar one time and no another time for no legitimate reason ( in the kid’s eyes)?
    Would love to hear what you think.

    • Rand Diab says:

      Good thought! It’s definitely worth discussing with them your reasons for saying yes or no to anything. Some parents feel they have the right to say no without explanation. I tend to be a talker so am open to sharing my perspective with them at any age in language they can understand.

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