GETTING TO “NO”
Our country needs a new motivational book, this time one heralding the importance of saying “no.” I think I’m the perfect person to write it.
One winter weekend morning during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic I drove to our community food bank to drop off some donations. When I arrived there was already a long line of cars and drivers waiting for the food bags to be handed out in the parking lot of the church that runs the program.
What surprised me was the large number of late model luxury vehicles in that line. What I was witnessing, I suspected, was that some of the households represented by those expensive vehicles had overspent their transportation budgets and had perhaps put too little of their incomes into rainy-day savings for emergencies like the pandemic-induced loss of jobs and income that many bread winners across the country were currently experiencing.
That food bank visit got me to thinking that our nation could benefit from a new motivational self-help book. And I think I’m the person to write it. I already have a title, Getting to No, and I’m pretty well advanced, in my head at least, on the concept and chapter outline.
Now, some folks may recall the best-seller motivational book, Getting to Yes that came out in the late 1980’s. If you think I am trying to ride the very successful coat-tails of Getting to Yes authors Roger Fisher and William Ury, from the Harvard Negotiation Project, I will unashamedly tell you, yes … I mean no. I mean I’m not really trying to draw on the success of Getting to Yes, by generating controversy and book sales, but yes, I welcome the opportunity to set right the balance between yes and no in our lives.
My initial research reveals that all through human history the word “no” has been given a bad rap. I think that’s partly because mankind has never really learned how to handle that two-letter word. I want to address that human shortcoming, and in the process rescue my fellow human beings.
I realize I have tremendous headwinds against me in trying to write, publish and sell a motivational book with “No” in the title. I’m not naïve. Still, I think I’ve identified a market niche for my book. After perusing the shelves of local bookstores and libraries and conducting Internet searches on the topic, I’ve found that nearly all the self-help and personal-motivation materials out there are addressed to an audience of one. To you. Or to me. To each of us seeking help and guidance on how to achieve greater self-control and personal fulfilment, and maybe buy a copy of the author’s book in the process.
My Getting-To-No audience, however, is not a single individual in need of help. It is the nation, the world, all humanity. My efforts are not focused only on inducing individual change but on fostering collective reform. My audience includes the politicians who promise us everything, corporations which attempt to convince us we can’t live without their products or services, and the millions of households struggling to sort out the differences between wants and needs as they attempt to navigate a tempestuous economy in turbulent times.
My book will begin with a short history of the word “no” and how it has generated negative vibes since the beginning of humanity. It will start with the biblical origins of our species. Adam and Eve were the first to be told “no.” They were instructed not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. We all know how well that worked out. Oh well, it was the Creator’s first try. Generations later Moses came down from a mountain with a pair of smart tablets of his day to give us God’s ten commandments, 8 out of 10 of which have “no” or “not” in them. Mankind’s batting average with those commandments hasn’t been exactly stellar either.
Down through the ages, “no” has gotten a lot of folks in trouble. Galileo was sentenced to life in prison by the religious authorities of his day because he made the outlandish claim for his time, “No, the sun does not revolve around the earth!” Monarchs saying “no” too many times to their impoverished subjects have faced revolutions and royal beheadings. And more benignly, but still critical, politicians saying “no” too many times to their constituents has resulted more often than not in getting voted out of office. “No” has understandably not achieved much of a following.
The thesis of my book, however, is that by not saying “no” to our inner child we aggravate many of the problems our nation now faces: a despoiled environment, ballooning public and private debt, chronic substance abuse and debilitating obesity, to name a few.
Once past raising my readers’ awareness of all the de-motivational baggage the word “no” has carried down through history and into our everyday lives, the second half of my book will demonstrate the importance of embracing “no” as a friend, a support, and a guide in our lives. This section of the book will address how helpful and life-changing saying “no” can be to our collective well-being, and to our safety and survival as a civilization. Learning to welcome “no” – to borrow from another motivational book - William David Brown’s Welcome Stress! - is at the core of my thesis.
To start off, I will point out just how many of our difficulties result from our individual and collective failures to use “no” when and where it matters most. One very tangible piece of evidence among the many to be included in my book, will be data measuring Americans’ propensity to over-spend and under-save.
Today our insatiable consumer-based nation is living beyond its means. We have forgotten how to say “no” now in order to save and be able to say “yes” in the future. All too often the result has been a decline in our capacity to bounce back from adversity. A recent Federal Reserve survey study reveals that nearly one third of US adults would have to borrow or sell something to cover an unexpected expense of only $400.00 One in ten Americans would not be able to cover an expense that small if required. That’s troubling.
The current pandemic has ripped away the curtain concealing just how financially vulnerable many American households are because they’ve not regularly set aside and saved a share of income to ride out tough times. I wonder how many of the heads of household today had read, as children, Aesop’s Fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper. Or read this apologue to their kids today.
To recall, in the story the ant and its companions worked all summer to store up food for the winter while the grasshopper dressed up in natty clothes and wasted away his summer days playing the fiddle. Come winter the grasshopper finds himself hungry and cold, and beseeching the cozy and warm ants to take him in. The moral – work and save today to prepare and protect against the adversities that might come tomorrow – appears not to have registered for many in our culture. That includes those who have the capacity, but not the will, to save to make it through the inevitable harsh economic winters that strike when we least expect them, like those finding themselves idling their luxury cars in food bank in lines.
If you haven’t noticed yet, we’re passing through a pandemic winter, and our half-frozen economy has left many of our fellow Americans jobless and struggling to pay for basic necessities like food and shelter. Many of those with no savings probably lived with the expectation that such an event was very unlikely to occur and, if so, social safety nets such as unemployment insurance, Medicaid and eviction or foreclosure moratoriums would see them through. But those social safety nets are now in stretched beyond their limits with too little funding, too many demands and too cumbersome a bureaucracy to always get money to where it’s needed most. Emergency social support programs were not designed to last through crises like a pandemic that has affected so many people in so many ways over the last two years, 2021-22.
I realize that if I’m to encourage our country to “just say no” I need to propose some small incremental steps to get there. I only have one relatively painless step to propose. It’s a policy recommendation that most political leaders will find palatable, and one that’s supported by a broad range of financial and investment advisers. It’s a basic set of fiscal and monetary incentives – higher interest rates on savings and lower taxes on personal investment income to motivate us all to spend less and save more of what we make.
In addition, our thought influencers – teachers in secondary schools, clerical advisors in marriage counseling, bank lenders with first-time home purchasers, and most importantly, parents of kids receiving their first allowances or payments for chores around the house - should encourage us to work toward the goal of saving and investing a share of even our modest incomes – let’s say a dime for every dollar. The mindset that needs reinforcing is that when we save, our money starts working for us in addition to us working for our money.
“By saving and investing you begin making money in your sleep,” financial guru and multi-billion-dollar investor Warren Buffet has declared. That simple practice puts savers on the right side of the power of compounding, that “eighth wonder of the world” as Buffet calls it.
Saving and investing a share of after-tax income each year even with a very low salary can add up to a comfortable retirement fund or get you through hard times that inevitably, and often unexpectedly, will come. But you gotta say “no” to a lot of other stuff to get there. Saying yes too often and ending up a borrower on the wrong side of compounding interest can result in perpetual debt and a precarious future.
When my book, Getting to No comes out, I have no delusions that it will achieve anything close to the popularity of Fisher’s and Ury’s Getting to Yes. I’m OK with that. If a potential buyer picks up a copy of my Getting to No at the bookstore, pages through it, but then puts it back thinking that instead of buying it they would rather put their money in a rainy-day fund, I certainly can understand. I can even applaud their decision.
You see, I can take “No” for an answer.
 Federal Reserve System, Board of Governors, “Report on the Economic Well-being of US Households in 2019.” May 2020.
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