Monday March 11, 2013
Saying no to yes
But Then Again by MARY SCHNEIDER
You donít have to help people all the time, especially if they want you to look after their house for a month.
WHEN someone asks for a favour that is going to be hugely inconvenient, why do many of us have a problem saying no?
In the past, Iíve sometimes agreed to do things for others, simply because theyíve caught me unawares and asked me ever so nicely. Before I could engage my brain, my tongue would usually take on a life of its own, and I would find myself saying something like, ďSure, I donít mind editing your 1000-page report over the weekend; or taking care of your flesh-eating fish, which need to be fed three times a day, while you go on holiday; or babysitting your wailing one-year-old while you have a manicure. While Iím at it, is there anything else I can do? How about a kidney?Ē
I once found myself in a situation where a woman I barely knew asked me if I would take care of her house for a month while she was on holiday.
ďI donít like to ask,Ē she began, and then smiled sweetly at me, ďbut youíre such a helpful person, and since you live just around the corner from me, I was wondering if you could keep an eye on my house while Iím gone.Ē
Even though I was expecting visitors during the second week of her holiday, and although I often donít leave my house for days on end, I couldnít bring myself to say no to her. After all, it was such a small request, and I didnít want to appear unhelpful.
ďIíd be happy to,Ē I found myself saying. At the same time, a mean voice in my head was saying, ďLady, donít you have anyone else you can ask? Like a real friend?Ē
ďI knew I could depend on you,Ē she gushed. ďAnd hereís a teeny list of things that I hope you wonít mind doing when you pop over every day.Ē
She then handed me a list about the length of a toilet roll: feed the cat, feed the fish, water the plants, bring in the mail .... If Iíd been a real friend, she might have also asked me to re-grout the bathroom tiles, iron her underwear and perform open-heart surgery on her ailing neighbour.
Now, at that moment, it wouldnít have been unreasonable for me to say, ďIím sorry, but I donít think I have time to do all of that. Is there perhaps someone else you can ask?Ē
Instead, the people-pleaser in me said, ďSure. No problem.Ē
Over the next few hours, I tried to think of ways to get out of my commitment, but as the clock ticked away it became harder and harder for me to come up with an excuse that wouldnít make me sound like an inconsistent jerk.
In the end, I decided to just suck it up.
However, at the end of the first week, about half of her fish were dead. Then her cat disappeared at the end of the second week. And no, I wasnít being negligent.
Fortunately, the cat came back during the third week. Unfortunately, the remaining fish died.
Then at the end of the fourth week, a fuse blew in her house, and the contents of her freezer had to be thrown away. Apart from that, it all went well. However, she never asked me for a favour again.
Donít get me wrong, I do enjoy helping my family and friends, but Iíve learnt that itís important to strike a balance. After all, you donít want to end up being classified as a selfish sod because you never agree to help anyone out, but you also donít want to feel that you have to agree to everything. Your family and friends should respect the fact that sometimes you have to say no.
Instead of responding immediately to a request for a favour that Iím unsure of, I now find it helps if I buy some time by saying something like, ďIíll get back to you on this.Ē
This gives me time to think things over, and when I do make a decision, I know Iíve made it for the right reasons. As such, I wonít feel as if Iíve been taken advantage of when Iím helping someone out, and I also wonít feel guilty when I have to say no.
Of course, if your neighbour, who canít drive, knocks on your front door at midnight and asks you if you can drive her husband to the hospital as heís having a heart attack, do not, under any circumstances, tell her that youíll get back to her.
Unless, of course, youíre having a heart attack yourself. In which case, youíre both screwed.