Sixty means never splaining
At his recent terrific performance at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Fla., to a rapt audience of 5,000+, Jerry Seinfeld got personal and riffed about being 62. He loves the 60s, he said, because if you don’t want to do something, you don’t have to. You can just refuse. No explanation, no excuse, no rationalization, no apology, no compromise. Not even “no thanks.” Or even Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to.” Just no. Case closed. End of story. Not even mic drop.
To me, no in our 60s reverts to the toddler within first learning to use the word. For babies, no is just no — I don’t want to, I don’t want that, I don’t like that, I won’t. It’s our first expression of personal empowerment. My favorite band, They Might Be Giants, has a kids’ CD titled “No,” with a title song that explores the child-parent contretemps around the world’s simplest, most universally understood term. Around the world, in our 500+ languages, the word “no” is spoken as oya, nda, oda, nde, k’amaj, c’am, hókai, ntaj, tsaa, haw, hawaa, maley, nee, gai and many more. That’s not even halfway through the language A’s, from Abasakur in Papua New Guinea to Azerbaijani in Iran. Forget nyet. In any language, anywhere, with a perfunctory word and gesture, we get no.
Well-meaning helicopter parents argue “no” with their kids, like a Founding Father trying to use fact and reason with today’s concealed-carry gun nut about the original intent of the Second Amendment. Or like most of America and world that still tries — with compassion and against all resistance and odds — to bring a sliver of sense and reality to the few remaining Theodore John “Ted” Kaczynski types who still believe President Trump is Amerika’s best czar ever.
When we grow up, things get fuzzed up, and no doesn’t always mean no. You need to justify. Or entertain push back and give in or meet halfway. Nancy Reagan had to tell us “just say no to drugs” because pushers didn’t understand why you wouldn’t want any crack or horse, and like Charlie Rose asked trenchant follow-up questions. On another front, stupid, abusive, aggressive guys who apparently don’t understand the dictionary definition of “no” actually have to be told “no means no.” Last year Germany adopted a “nein heißt nein” law that spells it out. Not that schwein follow the Bundestag.
Saying no is especially hard for people known as pleasers. “A People Pleaser is one of the nicest and most helpful people you know,” a really nice and helpful Psychology Today contributing practitioner said. “They never say ‘no.’ You can always count on them for a favor. In fact, they spend a great deal of time doing things for other people. They get their work done, help others with their work, make all the plans, and are always there for family members and friends. So far this sounds like a good thing. Unfortunately, it can be an extremely unhealthy pattern of behavior.”
Sounds like I need more pleasers in my life to get things done around here. Nobody would accuse me of being one. More like a passive-aggressive, gutless, vacillating weasel. Instead of coming right out and saying no, I find a “diplomatic” way around the issue, offer an alternative, make excuses, or kick the can down the road. This is also an unhealthy pattern of behavior.
My bad pattern starts to end this year when I turn 60. But saying no will take practice. Let me try:
Boss: “You have a lot of overdue projects. Could we have them soon?” Me: “No.”
Colleagues: “Would you stop stealing our lunches from the kitchen break room?” Me: “No.”
Employer: “We’ll need you to clean out your desk and turn in your badge.” Me: “No.”
Wells Fargo: “We’ll need your last 10 mortgage payments by Friday.” Me: “No.”
Neighbor: “Could I have the stuff on your front lawn? Me: “No.
I’m getting good at this. Let’s make it harder.
Life: “Are you going to eat healthy, drink less, quit cigars, exercise, do your laundry, remediate and mitigate your flowering bathtub grout mold, shower, clip your toenails, answer the urgent calls and emails from your doctor/dentist/therapist, read or see anything that challenges your confirmation bias and strong opinions, or for starters, wear any kind of pants today?” Me: “No.”
People who voted Trump: “Could we not talk about politics?” Me: “No. Sorry. You broke it, you bought it. Deal with it.”
Seems I’m not quite ready for my 60s.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer