An Encouraging Word — Developing the ability to say ‘no’

The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones. Luke 16:10

I am convinced that one of the major secrets to living a free, healthy, happy and moral life is the ability to say “no” because life is full of instances where one is constantly pressured by people, events and circumstances to do things that are counter-productive and self-defeating. The ability to say “no” requires an inner discipline that is learned through regular practice.

The combination of personal freedom and the collapse of agreed-on moral boundaries has made the ability for individuals to say “no” even more critical. Today we have to be able to say “no” to others and to ourselves. I am not sure which is hardest, but I do know that caving in to our own cowardice or the pressure of others can lead to devastating results.

External pressure can make saying “no” hard to do. The demands that come from various sources outside us can entice us to yield to those demands, without calculating their consequences. When “everybody else is doing it” and we do not have the inner discipline to resist “going along,” we can end up doing things with tragic consequences.

Children are susceptible to giving into peer pressure and engaging in activities that are socially inappropriate or harmful, such as acting out at school, destroying public property or using illicit drugs. The need for peer acceptance, along with an underdeveloped ability to say “no,” can lead to anti-social behaviors with long-term consequences.

Internal pressure can also make saying “no” hard to do. I know that I am susceptible to suggestion when it comes to eating too much of the things that are not good for me. I am a night eater because there are a lot of food commercials in the evening when I typically watch TV. Living at St. Meinrad Seminary doesn’t help either, with its three buffets a day. The constant sight of food and an inability to say “no” leads to weight gain.

How many people have made terrible purchases that they cannot afford because they have falsely associated an expensive car or large house with personal self-worth and self-identity? Then they wake up one day only to realize that their inability to say “no” to this internal drive has led them to higher interest loans than they can actually afford and deeper and deeper into debt.

The person who is easily persuaded by himself or others, lacks psychological strength and firmness. I believe that the path to living a free, healthy, happy and moral life begins with the ability to “get hold of ourselves,” “do hard things for our own good” and “stand up to our own cowardice in face of pressure,” whether it comes from inside or out.

Will power is something that has to be developed through constant practice. Resisting the pull to succumb to small matters can actually prepare a person to face down life’s really big challenges.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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