(Sorry, folks, going through a rough patch mentally. You’ll have to excuse me if I phone it in.)
As the world pulls itself together through cyberspace, rather than making connections, many of us seem to avoid them. I’m even guilty of this avoidance myself. “There’s just so much to do,” so why commit to anything, right? Why plan ahead if something better may come along? Well, gee, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s polite?
Imagine this social scenario: Friend A has a small, intimate gathering in mind and would like you over in the evening. Friend B, on the other hand, has a large and raucous party in mind, and it sounds like it’s gonna be a huge heap of fun. Oh, fuck – Cinema C is showing a limited-viewing run of your favorite old movie! Why, oh why, does it have to be all on one night?! Oh, well. Just click “Maybe” on them all and figure out which one you want to go to based on your mood when the time comes, right?
Well, no. Wrong. With the exception of the theater, your friends and acquaintances ask you out to do things because they actually want to see you. They want to spend parts of their lives with you and in turn experience some of yours. In a world of constant indecision and self-deprecation, it’s become so hard for us to think that people still want to be around us – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” right? Well, maybe, maybe not.
As Mim Skinner points out, one of the reasons that we get ourselves in these situations may be because we’ve totally re-imagined the “why” of interacting with others. It used to be as I posited above – making others happy – but now there’s a growing trend to do what we want to do. It’s not a bad thing, per se, but it’s something to be mindful of. It detracts from honest, meaningful communication to say “maybe” to someone or something we don’t want any part of rather than being up-front and saying “no” with a mild modicum of integrity.
I get it. It’s hard. I struggle with it myself, so don’t think you’re the only social hypocrite. Don’t think it’s only a social thing, either. As pointed out in a Harrison Law article, “analysis paralysis” strikes the business world as well. Those in positions of power (or that are even just involved in decision-making processes) freeze when “equally good” options are presented, often hesitating down to the last minute to deliver a “simple” yes-or-no/this-or-that answer. It’s a fear of failure or of displeasing others that seems to be the root cause in the business world, so perhaps we can extrapolate that data in to an application for the social.
Stop. People. Pleasing. Yes, this seems like a complete 180 from my earlier stance, but not really. If you’re saying “maybe” to all of these different things solely because you don’t want to hurt someone or you don’t want to “miss out,” nut up and make a decision. Except with very few scenarios, you won’t be able to be in all places at once, so why the fuck are you deluding yourself and others in to thinking so? In the end, you’re saving no-one’s feelings, so what exactly are you trying to accomplish? Are you naïve enough to think that the last-minute decision somehow spares people’s feelings?
Ryan Holiday captures the situations and sentiment incredibly well for Thought Catalog:
In a “let’s all get along” culture, there are so many pressures to say “yes.” You have to say yes to extracurricular activities (or you can’t go to college), you have to say yes to going to college (even if you have to no idea what you want to do with your life), you’re pressured to say yes, I agree that’s outrageous! (even if you’re not actually offended) You’re guilted into saying “Yes, I can meet next week,” or “Yes, I’d be happy to hop on the phone” (even though you know it’s not necessary). “Yes, I think that’s a great idea (when it’s not–it’s a horrible idea). You’re reminded with endless alerts until you say, yes I’ll attend your Facebook event (even though you have no idea who the person is), or yes I’ll read your book or blog post or support your Kickstarter (even though you might not have the time or the money).
And if you don’t want to say yes to those things, the only option is to say “maybe” instead—which is just a more equivocal way of saying yes.
Maybe I’ll see you guys later.
Maybe I’ll just be an English major.
Maybe I’ll appear on your podcast.
Maybe I’ll email you when I get into town.
All of this instead of: “No I really don’t want to do.” “No, I’m not going to settle.” “No, I just can’t.” “No, there just really isn’t enough in this for me.” “No, I am not going to give you a piece of my life.”
Time after time, we’re not sparing anyone. All we’re doing is making people think we’re dropping by – or at least might – then looking like a bunch of jackasses when we don’t show. Worse, making them look like jackasses. Think of the times you’ve gone out for a group meal, the early-comers tell the restaurant staff that you’re expecting over ten people, they scramble…and fucking four show up. If your social circles are anything like mine, that happens pretty often. Same with parties – the “general rule” I hand out to people is to account for about one half of the “yes” responses, and completely write off “no” and “maybe.” It’s not worth planning for people who will more than likely not show.
Man, that’s a harsh line, but there it is. We have come to the point where a “maybe” is only as good as a “no,” whether it’s from “analysis paralysis” or our own individual deficiencies of integrity. Well, it’s time to stop that, in my opinion. It’s time to remember that saying “no” may seem scary or harmful, but building up expectations and not coming through with them is prrrrrobably worse. Don’t come to any instant, “snap” decisions if that’s not your speed, but come to a decision. Don’t leave others hanging – be clear with your “yes” and with your “no.” If your gut instinct is “no,” that’s not “maybe.” “Maybe” started as a statement of probability, not a declaration obligation, and it’s time to re-embrace that.
Nancy Reagan was right all along. Just say “NO.”