Saying Nothing Instead of Saying No
I don’t like admitting it, but my initial reaction to most exchanges, whether it be with a boss, best friend, colleague, or partner, and whether it’s about something as abstract as the definition of reality or something as mundane as a clothing suggestion, is some iteration of the word “no.”
I don’t like to admit to this knee-jerk response because it doesn’t fit the persona I so desperately want to inhabit: the enlightened vegan nouveau-hippie whose first response is to
, not to shut down. But besides not fitting my image, saying “no” reflexively is no longer serving me; I’ve gotten into too many heated debates in restaurants, harbored too much poisonous resentment in my chest, cut off too many friends when we reached an impasse. I don’t want to carry any more anger or suffer any more loss because I am not willing to validate the lived experiences of my fellow humans.
I think I respond antagonistically to the world because there was a time when saying “no” did serve me, as it serves many of us. “No” is often one our first words as babies, and saying it is vital to establishing our individuality, our separation from the body that created us. As we grow up we say “no” to set boundaries with others, to make sure that our needs are not trampled or forgotten, and sometimes just to have something to say in a world terrified of silence.
In the academic sphere debating differences in ideas, challenging another scholar, and adopting a critical viewpoint of our environment isn’t just permitted, but actively
My own reflex to say “no” stems, I believe, from my scholarly activist work, which was influenced largely by a philosophical system literally called “the pedagogy of refusal.”
I am not alone, certainly, in the experience of using “no” as a vital act of self-creation, self-preservation, and even consciousness-raising. There is certainly a time and a place for that work, and for that word. But that place, I am learning, is not with your neighbors. Or your friends. Or your family. Even when you disagree with your neighbors, even when you disagree with the whole of your being, there is no benefit in shutting down, in refusing to hear what the humans in front of you are trying to say. The only response that builds bridges instead of walls is communion.
This is the vital work of My Neighbor’s Voice, and it is the reason I attended my first event. And the reason I attended my second event. And then the reason I joined the Board of Directors. Listening without response, sitting in the discomfort and then enlightenment of silence, and validating the reality of your neighbor: all are reestablished as integral parts of the communal experience in a My Neighbor’s Voice event, and participating has made it easier for me to lay down my weapons in all communicative aspects of my life, and to hear my loved ones with a depth that just isn’t possible when you are listening to respond instead of to hear.
Incidentally, we’ve discovered, my neighbors and I, that we have more in common than we ever realized while we were debating or fighting or saying “no” to one another. That’s the gift of sitting down at the table. I hope you’ll sit with us.
Our Board member: Kristen Marakoff