If You Can’t Say ‘No’ Than You Can’t Say ‘Yes’

Day 14

 Writing Practice

Slowing down is a decolonization practice, an internal and external systems disrupter, a stick in the spokes of embedded capitalist beliefs and attitudes that live and breathe in all of us. I understand more and more how incessant busyness is also a trauma response entangled with imperialist/white dominant/patriarchal systems that affect all of us in different ways; a traumatized system triggering unchecked attitudes, behaviours and actions.    

I believe there is an unchecked righteousness to being busy all the time; as if the people around us will not be able to survive without our steadfast benevolence. Is there a lack of trust in people’s own agency and capacity to help themselves or to seek others help besides ourselves that is at play?   White saviorship comes to mind. We white bodied folks get all tangled up in our guilt and shame without checking our supremist notion of what helping and saving and solving and knowing really means in the different contexts of people’s lives.

Taking time to save ourselves/taking care of ourselves/tending to our own collective and personal wounds i believe could go a long way in knowing what is ours and what is not ours. I speak of the kinda self-care that is not woven from a western perspective but a self-care woven from the ancient African word  Ubuntu, ‘I am because we are.”

More and more I see how crucial knowing and understanding ourselves deeply is a communal act.  Parker Palmer’s words come to mind, “An unexamined life is a threat to others.”  I know there are many of us who cannot stop this incessant busyness because what would happen if we stopped? We may have to face our own demons, traumas, our own difficult uncomfortable emotions like grief or sorrow or rage or hate.

Making it personal: Theo’s story. Theo almost killed Maya by not slowing down, not being able to say no, not having boundaries around his own self time. Theo fell asleep at the wheel the day the jeep flipped into the drain and Maya pitched out. Theo having to slowly, methodically wedge her head from the wreck. Earlier that morning, Theo picked up the phone and said yes (4am) to going up the mountain to bring down a load of cocoa. Before this day he said yes to everyone. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Can you take Tantie to the medical centre to check she pressure?


Can you bring neighbour to the hospital, she in labour?


Can you drop my gas cylinder for me?


Can you pick Uncle up from the airport?


Can I borrow your chainsaw and can you bring it to me?


Can you take Tantie to get her foot dressed Tuesdays and Thursday mornings?


Can you take the bride and groom to the church?


Can you trim the mango tree?


Can you take the goats to market?


My dear friend Margaret used to say if you can’t say ‘no’ then you can’t say ‘yes’.

Theo’s yeses exhausted him. And the only way he finally understood this to be true was the day he fell asleep at the wheel in the middle of the day causing a horrific accident which potentially could have lost him his one and only daughter.

Thus started his journey of going deeper into his incessant need to keep moving and pleasing others. A journey of understanding his yeses could potentially disempower other’s from building their community of helpers besides one man Theo. An understanding that yes, yes, yes is a trauma response to old child hood wounds and expectations, an understanding of ego protecting him from what a ‘no’ might cost him.

Slowing down, taking time to do the deep self-dive work of understanding habitual, conditioned patterns; knowing when our ‘no’s’ can open up space for those deep self-dives i beleive is an act of decolonizing minds and hearts and thus a beautiful act of saying yes to collective well-being.

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