“Is it okay that I don’t want to play with her?” Your face was puckered in consternation as you approached me. We were hanging out at the neighborhood playground and I was sitting on the bench with a book, watching you all play from the corner of my eye. As you were on the swing set while your sisters were playing elsewhere you were approached by a child you didn’t know. I had thought she was just asking to use the swing, but apparently it wasn’t just that.
I bit my initial reaction, which was to ask you “Why don’t you want to?” My gut reaction was to think about the other child first, not you. Instead I said, “Of course, its okay. Sometimes you just don’t want to play with someone new.”
“But what do I say to her?” Your face was pained. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”
I felt your dilemma keenly, echoing the countless times I’ve faced it myself. And if you needed the permission I never felt I had, I was prepared to give it to you. “All you need to do is actually say ‘No, thank you’. As long as you aren’t rude about it, that’s all that you need to say. “
But you will be faced with situations over and over again where you feel you need to justify your decisions or actions. A need to explain and justify yourself.
I used to be the worst offender at this myself. In my head I’d prepare all sorts of explanations (some of them might even be true), so as to make my “No” as palatable as possible to the person I’m saying to. Or just give in and say “Yes”, just so I didn’t have to.
There’s an acronym for what this human tendency: JADE. We Justify, Argue, Defend, and Evade. And mostly in our head before we even verbalize our response.
There’s a classic scene from one of my favorite movies called “War Games”. A computer decides that nuclear war is a game, but after replaying all the scenarios it decides simply, “The only way to win is not to play.” So it is with feeling like having to explain and justify yourself. By simply stating your truth, you’re not inviting others in a conversation about it.
There are times, of course, when a simple “No” isn’t appropriate. (For example, if I ask you to clean your room., that isn’t an acceptable example, okay?) Or if you’re in a situation at work and you’re tasked to do something, simply saying No is not going to be acceptable either. (Although if there’s a practical reason for the No, go ahead and explain why and come up with alternatives if applicable.)
But in the social web that holds us all together, your obligation to someone else doesn’t extend to justifying your decisions. That is your choice.