Saying No?

Published 10.03.2016

Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour

by Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour

President of the College


I often tell people that I don’t like to say “no.”

Rather than saying “no,” I prefer to ask “how?” In doing so, I try to inspire creative thinking, in myself as well as others. Often, just taking a different perspective shows me the way to do something that I previously did not think was possible.

BUT, lately I have been thinking a great deal about the power of the word “no.”

My family often encourages me to say “no” more often. Turn down a request to give a speech. Decline an invitation to a luncheon or dinner meeting.  Take more time for me and (to be honest) for them. Every day, my schedule is determined by my “yes” and “no” decisions.

I find that, in general, I have trouble saying “no.” Yet, at times, I know it is necessary.

Maybe saying “no” is like everything else in life – appropriate in moderation.  I certainly want people to say “no” to destructive behaviors, to bullying. I want them to say “no” to anyone who stands in the way of their success or tries to prevent them from achieving the future they desire.

If we heard “no” more often, would we work harder to earn a “yes”?

I often speak to young people and I tell them, “The sky is the limit.  There is nothing you cannot do if you set your mind to it, develop the skills, and practice.”  BUT, maybe I also should be teaching the concept of saying “no” as a means to achieving balance in all aspects of their lives. Learning how to say “no” may be another life lesson.

If we heard “no” more often, would we work harder to earn a “yes”?  Would we become more creative problem solvers?  Would a well-placed “no” inspire us to find a better way to make a difference?

I had experiences, as both an undergraduate and graduate student, of receiving very disheartening “no” reactions from people in positions of authority.  In both instances, I became more determined and I did prove the individuals wrong.  They said I could not do something and I did it!  I wonder now if they were saying “no” because they meant it or because they wanted to motivate me. Either way, I certainly was motivated.

Whether I say “yes” or “no” ... I know it is important that I keep being me.

So, I remain torn on the question of saying “no.” I know that I want my responses to empower and motivate.  Maybe I need to rethink and change my own perspective in order to realize that “no” can actually be a positive response.

Maybe I need to say “no” to gain more personal and family time, while continuing to ask “how” I can better serve the people and the causes that impact my professional life and my personal interests.

Whether I say “yes” or “no” to the question before me, I know it is important that I keep being me. That probably will mean I say “yes” more often than “no.” I don’t know how to be any different.

Susan Gregg is credited with saying “No is a complete sentence.”  It is a sentence I will consider as one alternative in my life full of options.