Recently my wife and I went through a tradition we loathe. Namely, buying a new vehicle every 10 years or so. It isn’t that we don’t have an idea of what we want—it’s the fear of who we might end up talking to during the process. After looking online for a few months we spotted a candidate to become our sweet new minivan. (Don’t judge me. They are super convenient.)
Over our lunch break we drove to the dealership and were met by a salesman. Not a salesman as in a generic respectable category of occupation, but a salesman in the sense of a desperate human being who would punch a kitten in the face just to make a deal. The salesman showed us the minivan. Not only was it scratched up and missing basic features, but it drove terribly. No. The captain’s chairs adjusted on a track that, as my wife pointed out, would become a mass grave for goldfish crackers. No thank you.
The salesman ignored every concern we expressed and even had the audacity to argue with a mother of 12 years experience over the nature of goldfish crackers. No, we aren’t interested. When we tried to exit he persisted, “What’s wrong with the van?” It just feels cheap. “Well it is cheap!” Yeah, no thank you. We bought another vehicle a week later and still got messages from this salesman asking us why we couldn’t come back and buy his dumb van.
Rooted in principle
I am a difficult person to sell things to since I teach persuasion and can mentally check off the techniques being attempted on me. I don’t mind someone using good technique for a good product I’m interested in, but as soon as I sense a push that ignores what I am communicating, my “No” kicks in. It’s a “No” rooted in principle. When people pressure me to do things rooted solely in their own selfish desires, my “No” is immovable.1
No doubt you can relate— just replace a pushy salesman trying to sell a van with a high pressure evangelist trying to get baptismal decisions, deadbeat relatives trying to convince you to give them money (again), or a domineering boss pressuring you to work late.
Fostering a community of generosity and helpfulness is great (see Gal. 6:2 and opposite page). However, even within a generous and service-oriented community there is room for “No.” Paul writes, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Saying “Yes” because someone compels you, shames you, or physically forces you is not really generous; it is the fruit of false religion.2
One reason saying “No” is so difficult is because the people asking us to say “Yes” are the ones who help us develop our identity. Parents, teachers, pastors and spouses are just a few of the people who orient us by helping us create a sense of self and how that self is supposed to function.
The challenge comes within communities (including church) where others create social identities that make people feel guilty when setting healthy personal boundaries. But remember, Jesus recognizes the need for “No.” Jesus states: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt. 5:37).
What’s more, for those of us prone to badger people to give us what we want, a closer reflection on this verse not only means we need to be firm with our boundaries, but it also means we need to respect other people’s “Yes” and “No.”
“No” is an important part of good communication health, and healthy communication directly impacts psychological, emotional and physical health. Without healthy communication creating boundaries we end up physically, emotionally, spiritually or financially sick. Or worse, driving an inferior minivan.
1. The difference between persuasion and propaganda is that persuasion seeks to benefit all involved. Propaganda only has the interest of the propagandist in mind.
2. “Force is the last resort of every false religion,” Ellen G. White, The Signs of the Times, May 6, 1897.