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Wednesday, June 13, 2012


This was named the word of the year for 2010 by Geoff Nunberg, National Public Radio’s renowned linguist. No has real power, and any toddler knows this. In fact, it is one of the first words he learns, along with Ma-ma and Da-da. Yes comes late, but doesn’t have nearly the same impact.

For us seniors, it continues to be imperative that we appreciate the many ways of delivering the answer no: there’s the full-frontal-in-your-face approach with teeth, the whispered response, the head-shake. Or saying nothing, doing nothing. This also registers as a no.

Mike Robbins, author and keynote speaker, claims that he used to have trouble saying no. “After all, we don’t want to disappoint people or hurt their feelings. No has consequences; it can close possibilities that would otherwise remain open. No one wants to hear no in response to his question. To offer it too soon can be too hasty and unexpected; to present it too late exhausts both of you,” he cautions.

While no seems negative, closed, cynical, or weak—it is not necessarily any of these things. It can be about being real, knowing who we are, and above all, honoring and respecting ourselves. We can live more authentic lives, based on balance and harmony, if we are more comfortable with the concept. Knowing how to deliver a kind, confident, and honest no is important. And it empowers us.

As a very young woman, I learned one of the first of several significant no lessons when my youngest child was in the third grade. The other class mother approached me, asking me to make two dozen cupcakes for the party the following week. At the time I was overwhelmed—my father was dying, my mother was seriously declining, I was an only child and single parent trying to do everything on my own. I remember saying, in my head, NO! Of course not! Good grief, no!

Instead, I heard the word yes leave my lips. I stood there stunned, almost having an out-of-body experience as the word yes betrayed me. In that instant, I was furious with myself because the commitment I had made was truly dumb and more dumb, to say the least. And while I learned the lesson here, there were still so many other valuable no lessons to be learned over the years—with grown children, relatives, bosses, friends…

In short, the older we get, the more No can validate us: it sets boundaries, establishes parameters. In any language, no is no: pas, nicht, non, aon, nie, oxi, ekki, ne, geen, He, jo, ez, ingen, ei, hindi, pa gen okenn, nincs, tidak ada, nullum, tiada, I-ebda, nu, HET, brez, hakuna, inga, yok…

For more information about Geoff Nunberg, visit National Public Radio:

Laraine Jablon

Laraine Jablon, BA, MA, is a writer specializing in social, health, and spiritual concerns of seniors. She lives in Nesconset, New York, and welcomes your thoughts.