The Power to Say No
I have been concerned with the ways in which modern life disempowers us through addictions: to unhealthy food, technology, drugs, dangerous pleasures, and who knows what else is yet to be discovered.
The conclusion I have arrived at is that the people who will survive are not those who adapt. Darwin’s theory of adaptation is even dangerous now. It implies that we should adapt to the new technologies, drugs, and foods, and as I have already said, this is the wrong adaptation. It will speed up our demise, reduce our long term joy, and shorten our lives.
Those who will survive will be those who “swim against the current,” those who have the power and self-discipline to say “No!” to what is being offered. No to endless temptations and pleasures that, in the long run, end in misery. In short, those who do not adapt.
But how does one develop this self-discipline, this power to say no? Is it not better to say “Yes!”: yes to exercise,yes to a healthy food, and yes to a healthy lifestyle?
I have found from experience that yes does not work well because the temptations, the addictions, are strong. Imagine a drug addict being offered his drugs of choice and saying yes to health. It won’t work. He needs to have the will power to say no to the drugs.
Learning to say no, I found out, is extremely difficult. So people substitute it with slogans that say yes: yes to exercise, instead of no to sitting all day in front of TV; yes to diet instead of no to oily fast food. Not strange that none of these “yes programs” work well. We need to be able to say no and actually walk our talk.
I have started to train myself to say no. I started counting how many times a day I said no to unhealthy temptations and how many times I failed to say no, and I am trying to improve the ratio. At the end of the week I am trying to find what will be the most desirable reward for being self-disciplined.
I am truly envious of the religious Jews who honor the Sabbath: no work, no phones, no BlackBerries, no driving, no television or radio. Pure peace. Time to reconnect with oneself, to reconnect with the family. To reconnect with whatever you believe is bigger than you. To connect with whatever spiritual convictions you might have.
Think of it: What is the difference between humans and animals? Animals do not discriminate between kodesh ve hol, between the sacred and the non-sacred. All days are the same for them. They recognize seasons because nature imposes it on them, not because of a choice they made.
Humans have a Sabbath, or Christmas or Yom Kipur or Ramadan. They choose how to behave differently at certain times.
The modern world, with all its temptations, is increasingly making us animalistic: driven by addictions and external forces, we are increasingly losing our will power to self-direct. We increasingly work on sacred days and thus making all days the same. The result is that time flies faster; Years become shorter and life, although our life span might be longer than what our predecessors had , feels shorter.
My experience is that Christmas is arriving faster and faster. I feel that New Years eve was not last year but last week. How did the year pass by? Where did the time go?
The more yes we say, the faster the wheel of life spins and the shorter is the span of life we enjoy.
We must stop . Take a break. Say no. Say no to phones, twitters, blogs, blackberries, tv, driving , shopping, to whatever we do six days a week. One day is a “no day”.
I am making a commitment not to work on Saturdays. No phones. No TV. No driving.
I don’t find going to the synagogue fulfilling. Neither the rituals nor the prayers speak to me. So what to do instead? I tried reading the weekend newspapers. The newspapers depress me and I feel they just repeat themselves. Exercise? Good, but that should be done every day.
I found the answer: If I read books that make me wiser I feel rejuvenated at the end of the day. So I read Osho, an Indian spiritual teacher,. And when I get tired of him I read Pirkey Avot, the Jewish book of wisdom. I am looking for books of wisdom from all religions.
I read also good books of jokes. There is a lot of wisdom in some of them.
The Sabbath day, the “NO Day”, and it does not have to be Saturday, it can be any day of your choice, is the day to absolutely take it slow and easy. Long, long meals. Talk to your spouse without any interruptions of phone calls or having to go anywhere. No driving anyone anywhere.
I wish there would be a new religion, the religion of “No!” We would have a pin that says simply “NO!” on our lapels, so we could recognize each other and support each other in standing up to modern addictions.
I wish we would teach our children how to say no, not only to drugs, but to violent computer games, and obesity-causing fast-food outlets, and obsessive TV watching. That is the true character-building that future generations need, if we are going to survive as a civilization.
I believe our ancestors knew how to say no and were able to tell their children no better than we do today.
Today, in two career families no one has the energy to say and enforce a “no” to increasing temptations our children are exposed to.
There is more no that need to be said but less time to enforce it.
Also, we are increasingly bombarded with permissive theories on self actualization and freedom of choice which is used by many as an excuse to not set and enforce boundaries. Our children are lost in the jungle of pleasure traps with dangerous long term consequences.
As I look at the future I do not see it being a better future. As I travel the world and observe how developed countries are trying to emulate the west, I feel sorry for the life style they are losing. We try to convince the chinese to save less and spend more. To increase consumer debt. We spread our fast food and sugary drinks everywhere we can. We promote the protestant ethics to work more. And more . And to feel guilty if one stops to smell the flowers.
Let us learn to say “NO”
No. No . No.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes