Diversity is Freedom

It’s been awhile since I wrote that blog post on saying “no,” and I want to go back to the topic now. Re-reading it, I keep thinking about the right to disagree with people.

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free. — Charles Evans Hughes

One chess pawn on a board looks different from the rest
Be Different. Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

So often during this “no” experiment I have been running, I have gotten push-back that my “no” meant something was wrong with me. For instance, “No, I dislike wearing bikinis,” or “No, I actually like archeology more than sports,” have branded me as either a sheltered weirdo or some kind of heretic.

Just playing devil’s advocate, here, but what if it’s perfectly fine to not like what some other people like? What if being myself is not intended as a judgment on other people? What if being myself is something I owe to God? Continue reading “Diversity is Freedom”

Saying “No”

noOver the past two days, multiple sources (blog articles on LinkedIn, memes, customers at my workplace) have told me that one of the biggest keys to success is the habit of saying “no.”

This gives me pause.

I have spent most of my life saying “yes” to just about everyone and everything, with mixed results. When you need money, you will say “yes” to just about any legitimate-sounding offer of work. When you are lonely, you will go along with someone else’s ideas of fun. In my experience, these “yes” moves have mostly introduced me to things I never would have tried and brought good things into my life. I’m glad I said “yes.”

But, what about saying “no”? I look back at some of the biggest moments I have said “no,” and see those might have had an even more profound effect on my life than the times I have said “yes.” There was the time I decided not to go to my parents’ alma mater for college, or the time I ended a very serious relationship that had been headed toward marriage. Those “no’s” were dramatic, but I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t said them.

While saying “yes” has brought hope and possibilities into my life, saying “no” has closed doors and burned bridges, which helped me identify what I really wanted out of life. Saying “no” helped me move forward by taking away the anxiety of having too many choices to make.

I’ve always been reluctant to say “no,” except on the topics I consider “unquestionable,” such as my faith and what I believe God has told me to do. Lately, I’ve been seeing that I need more and better boundaries. A lack of good boundaries have left me feeling off-balance, and parts of my life have been brought to a standstill by indecision in these moments. Maybe, (and it is even hard to write this) I should be saying “no” a little more often.

I recently read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and Unashamed by Christine Caine. Both books reinforce this concept in their own ways, and called some areas of my life into question.

I decided to push back, and start saying “no” when I was justified. This has turned out to be a harder project than I realized.

I started small, by donating a lot of belongings I owned because of guilt or “making do” or “because someone else insisted” (I may blog about this soon).  I signed up for a dance class, started learning FreeCAD software, and checked out books on grant writing and e-publishing because I had let habit and lack of experience take the place of real decision making.  I have started to redraw some life boundaries and say “no” to some things when I had been putting that off. I’ve started very, very small, but I’ve started.

Even though I’m not the expert on “no,” and I’ve got a long way to go, I thought I’d share some questions I’ve been asking myself when trying to decide whether to say “yes” or “no.”

  1. Am I saying “yes” just to please other people? God has called us to be kind and accommodating to our fellow man, but He didn’t tell us that we cannot say “no.” Let me say it again! “No” is not an unchristian word! Being afraid to displease others can be a kind of bondage that ties us to their whims and sets us against our own consciences sometimes. God has given us free will, but He did it so we could trust and obey Him, and achieve the things He prepared in advance for us to do.
  2. What will I lose when I say “no”? It’s biblical to count the costs, but I have a problem with exaggerating them in my mind. This question is good for giving yourself some reality therapy. A decision to ignore some well-meant but misguided advice on a trivial matter should not (in normal events) end a relationship.
  3. What will I gain if I say “no”? If, in the last example, saying “no” ended that relationship, perhaps you gained some freedom from a toxic relationship. Most of the time, the benefit is seen more in free time to do other things or clearer goal-setting, and these are very valuable in my efforts to reach my full God-given potential.
  4. Why am I afraid to say “no”? This question has helped me figure out what was holding me back in relationships, in career choices, and even in small lifestyle decisions like sorting clothing to wear or to give away. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV).
  5. Have I said “yes” to avoid something else? I’ll admit to having said “yes” to things, simply because they would be nice distractions from the task at hand, which I didn’t want to face. This question is to help me refocus on the goal and deal with why I am actively avoiding it.

I think there is truth in this statement that “no” is the key to success, but I’m still working on it.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, including any revealing questions you’d like to add to my list. Leave me a comment!

Muscle Memory

“It’s going to take a little time to learn it, but you’ll get it. You’ve not had dance lessons before, so you don’t have the muscle memory yet,” my friend (who is also teaching me Irish dancing) encouraged me.

I certainly am not the best dancer in the class, but at least I know there isn’t judgment there. I am taking the class to challenge myself, to stretch a little outside my comfort zone. Okay, maybe way outside my comfort zone.

I am used to being able to learn things quickly, but hopping up and down on tiptoe while doing a variety of kicks and toe movements, all in sequence to peppy Irish music…well, let’s just say I’m picking this up very, very slowly. I’m certainly not keeping up with the music at this point, but it feels good when I at least manage to copy the movements.

I decided a couple of years ago that maybe my muscles are a little bit too used to doing life like I had been doing it. I had started to close myself off due to fear, particularly fear of failure and of being judged and rejected by other people. I am a Christian, and because of that, I don’t believe fear is the way I should live: “ For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Irish dancing (and a whole lot of other things I’ve tried, lately) are part of a personal decision to confront those fears and open myself up to the adventure of discovery in God’s beautiful world.

But I should really put that verse back in its proper context. It was not originally written as empowerment to learn a jig or write a book. It was addressed to Christians living with fear when sharing their faith publicly to a world that truly hated them and persecuted them.

Fear is a serious opponent, even in today’s world. The news is full of fear. Sometimes even the workplace is full of fearful news and a barrage of reasons not to live out our faith publicly–and this is the West. Being a Christian in the eastern world is far more dire.

All the more reason to keep practicing until our faith gets stronger. We need the “muscle memory” that helps us see the current, active presence of God in our lives, where we work, and where we live. We should learn to see the patterns in world news that God predicted in His Word, and learn the contents of the Bible so well that we can call it to mind at will when we are under attack.

This isn’t muscle we can build overnight, but we’ll always struggle at mastery if we don’t keep practicing.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” (Galatians 6: 7 NIV).