Tuesday, June 13, 2017

An honest and respectful "no" is better than a begrudging or exhausted "yes," for a few reasons...

When Soka Gakkai founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi said that “to not advance is to retreat,” and our mentor SGI President Ikeda said “Buddhism is win or lose,” they were not expressing hard-hearted absolutism. They understood that when we truly tap into our inner wisdom while trying to encourage someone, we can tell the difference between someone who is trying to avoid the difficulty of personal growth and someone who is struggling to fill a role that is not in alignment with their vision for kosen-rufu in their lives.

For many people who say “yes” to voluntary community responsibilities, these roles are great opportunities to push themselves in healthy ways. For others of us, while it may be good to give community leadership a try for a while, we must then be honest with ourselves and our colleagues if we realize that these responsibilities do not suit us after all.

If we say to ourselves after each time we do tasks we can’t bring ourselves to enjoy, “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” we negate both our own feelings and the benefits of our actions, because over time those actions will become contaminated by reluctance or resentment.

There are a few benefits of telling our colleagues a respectful “no”. One is that we may get out of the way of a successor who will both enjoy the work more and do it better than we did. Another is that we may strengthen our bonds of understanding with our colleagues, through transparent and honest dialogue about what our strengths and interests really are.

When we approach this dialogue from a high life-condition and with gratitude for the opportunity to serve, (rather than start it when we’re feeling depressed or overwhelmed), then our sincerity and our concern for doing what is right by the people our services affect will shine through, and make our decisions easier for reasonable people to accept without misunderstanding our true reasons.

Yet another benefit of relinquishing responsibilities we aren’t in alignment with is that we stop wasting time. During our self-assessment, we may realize we have spent as much or more time resisting—and complaining about—our responsibilities than we have actually spent fulfilling those responsibilities.

This does not mean that we should never try to expand our healthy limits beyond what is comfortable right now. We just have to change how we do it, and trust ourselves to know what is best for us despite what other people may think is best for us. I said last week that many of us need to take our human revolution more slowly, so part of this healthy-pushing is to identify and then honor our own natural pace for sustainable self-improvement.

One way I’ve been practicing this lately is when I’ve committed to a gathering or outing and then found myself feeling more tired or socially-reluctant than I thought I would be. In such situations, I ask myself, “Am I willing to go for an hour?” I then remind myself that I can leave whenever I want (politely, and without having to justify my early departure), and I have the choice of saying no if I am asked to volunteer for something. Then, I find that if I am willing, I enjoy and participate more fully in the activity, maybe even say “yes” to something small, and may not even have to leave early after all.

Developing an accumulated karma of honoring small commitments is what helps us slow-bloomers build up toward expanding our healthy limits if necessary, rather than pushing ourselves to be as useful as we can even when we’re overdue for a major life-recalibration.

This is like gradually increasing our fitness: If we go from being sedentary to trying to sprint, we’ll injure ourselves. If we start with walking, then walk a little longer each day, then do some short jogs, we can gradually increase our fitness level without injury.

Equally as important is identifying how long it feels good to jog for, and not continuing to increase the time until our enjoyable exercise turns into an exhausting chore. We may even realize we would rather swim than jog—If so, instead of committing to another month or year of jogging, we need to go find a suitable body of water to cultivate our inner fish in.

In addition to getting a better idea of what our healthy limits are, taking these small steps and checking in with ourselves as we go will help us identify what we are truly the happiest doing, and what is best left to other people who are obviously energized by what we felt exhausted by doing.


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Image: “Mystic Main” by Karla Joy Huber, 2017; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, silver Sharpie, metallic gel pen, white gel pen, colored pencil

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