Years ago, when Henry Kissinger was one of the most admired men in America, my friend Ronnie mistakenly dove into the shallow end of a hotel pool late one night and scraped his scalp pretty badly. Holding his hand over it, he staggered into that little room where they keep the ice machine. The man who turned to see who had walked in was Henry Kissinger.
“Mr. Kissinger,” exclaimed Ronnie, “you’re one of three people I’ve always dreamed of asking for advice.”
“No,” said Kissinger.
Ronnie said, “I understand,” and turned to walk out of the room.
“My advice is no, young man.” Ronnie turned back to face him. “Always let your first answer be no. When you say yes, you no longer have the ability to say no. But when your answer is no, you retain the power to say yes.”
Ronnie took the advice to heart. He tells me it made him quite a lot of money over the years.
And now you, too, know Henry’s secret.
Now, I am not a politician, I am not in the business of power, or better said: not in the business of power over others. And yet: “no” is an excellent word to gain or retain power.
So what do you say no to?
I recommend that you practice saying no. No hysteria, no resistance, no teasing. Just no. Flat.
No is arresting. No is allowing you to slow down and look. No is taking the wind out of the sail of automatic response. I am not saying what you’ll see when you actually look… I can’t. You can’t either.
And because you have probably never looked, be prepared for surprises.
No is an assertion. An assertion of your will, an assertion of your personhood, an assertion of your right to actually choose: choose what you say yes to and what you say no to.
Until you can say no, you can never say an authentic yes. You can never surrender, you can never allow, because limp dicks don’t allow… they just tolerate, go along to get along, powerless.
So practice to say no as a pause. With power. You’ll be training yourself like the boy who was slapping water for a year. 1
I remember a session in Landmark when the whole task was to say no to a simple invitation. 100 people in the course, 100 people sweating bullets to say no. So please don’t discount the power of this exercise.
I am yet to meet a student who actually can say no in a believable, powerful way. Without explanaton, without emotion, without trepidation, without trying to appease me.
Really, until you can say “no” that way, you are not a person. So practice. Please.
PS: here is another point of view about “no”