“You know where I live, don’t you?” asks the plumber, when I say I’ll call round with the cash for the leaking pipe he’s just fixed. “Yes, of course!” I reply with an air of “why wouldn’t I?” Except the real answer is “No. Tell me.”
“I’ve said I’ll run a discussion on what puts people off church,” says a friend. “Will you do it with me?” I look at my diary and see I have a prior engagement – perfect. I open my mouth to say “Sorry. I can’t. I have a meeting that night” and find myself saying: “Yes – sounds fascinating.”
“You’ll sell some raffle tickets for me, won’t you?” Yes. (No. I’ll just give you £20 not to have to sell them). “Would you do a sponsored read/walk/anything?” Yes. (No. Same as raffle tickets, only make it £50). “Please send this to 10 strong women whom you love, admire, and respect and send it back to me so I know you have.” OK. (No! Just press the delete button. I hate getting emails telling me how wonderful I am. My ego needs no boosting, I can tell you).
Why do we say yes when we want to say no? Or is it just me? I don’t think so. Though I did once work with somebody who, as she was leaving, was asked by a colleague: “You will keep in touch won’t you?” “No,” she answered without a flicker of hesitation. He looked stricken. “But we’ve all been good mates haven’t we? It would be great to meet up from time to time – wouldn’t it?” He was sounding a bit feeble. “No. We’ve been colleagues, and I’ve enjoyed working with you. But the chances of me actually wanting to make the effort to see you all again are – well, nil. Cheerio!” And with that she was off.
Everybody was devastated. What’s wrong with her? Why is she being so nasty? Do you think she’s having a breakdown? They clearly all expected her to say “yes” because most of the time, that’s what we do. Will you help me paint the living-room? Of course! Will you come to my total immersion baptism? (yes, really). Love to! Have you read War and Peace? Yes – but when I was 16, so please don’t ask me for a resume.
Now, I can understand why intellectual pride might lead us to lie about having read a great work of literature, but pretending to know where somebody lives? What’s that about? A wise and clever person once said the thing we fear most in life is rejection and the thing we most crave is acceptance. I’ve lived in the village nearly five years – the fact that I don’t know where the plumber lives might suggest I’m just a tiny bit thick, and who wants to know a thicko? This is beginning to fit the rejection theory.
But just a minute – I asked the same friend/colleague one day if she would join me for lunch with another colleague I’d invited, and who I actually found quite difficult to have a conversation with. “No thanks,” she said. “I’d rather stick pins in my eyes.” Oh come on, I say, help me out here. I don’t want to be on my own with her for an hour. “So why have you asked her for lunch then?” I say it’s because I feel a bit sorry for her. “Well, do you know what? I don’t. And I don’t want to have lunch with her. In fact, I’m not that keen on having lunch with you. I want to read my paper and eat my apple – in peace.”
Did I feel rejected and unloved? Did I hate her, decide she was a nasty, selfish piece of work? No. Because she’s not. What she is, is honest. When she pays me a compliment – which admittedly isn’t often – I know she means it. There’s no artifice about her, she doesn’t suck up to anybody, and you can be totally honest with her in return. She makes no excuses, has no regrets, never – or rarely ever – finds herself somewhere she doesn’t want to be, doing things she’d rather not do, and never, ever has to ring round friends asking if they know where the plumber lives. She never tries to sell me a raffle ticket, never tells me how wonderful I am and, as far as I know, has never done a sponsored walk. But she has read War and Peace.
Or so she says . . .