Saying “No” is one of the most basic acts of self defense. It establishes a clear boundary, showing others what you expect of them. It can keep small-scale annoyances from turning in to a full-fledged safety problems. It’s also an important way of affirming your own right to self-determination. Most of us don’t enjoy saying “No,” so we avoid it as much as possible. That makes it all the more important to practice this simple skill.
In Smile at Strangers, I recount how the following activity completely changed the way I think about self defense. You’ll need a partner, and a clock or timer, to try it yourself.
- One person asks questions: “Can you give me a ride to Alice’s party? Why not? Aren’t we friends?” or “Can you take my Friday night shift for me? How come you won’t help me out? Don’t I always help you when you ask?” Or questioners can ask for bus fare, a spare cigarette, the use of a phone, etc. Don’t threaten or yell; just be persistent.
- The other person answers “No” to all the questions. Don’t smile or laugh, but do maintain eye contact with your questioner.
- Keep this up for sixty seconds (it will feel much longer), and then switch roles.
KJ and Doris Ann show you just how hard this is, in a mere 26-second video! When you’ve tried both roles, ask yourself,
- Which was harder, asking questions, or saying “No”? What was hard about it?
- Did it get harder or easier as more time elapsed?
- What were you thinking as you played each role? How did you feel afterward?
For the rest of the week, look for opportunities to say “No.” Don’t say it if you don’t mean it! But we want to take a good hard look at all the situations where we’d like to say “No,” but don’t: Going along with someone else’s plans when you’d really rather not. Giving a salesperson “Just a minute” of your time. Saying “No” in those situations may feel uncomfortable, because we’re conditioned to be helpful and cooperative. Try it anyway! Get past to the discomfort, and focus instead on how it feels to define a personal boundary.
By Friday, I hope you’ll be more comfortable saying “No,” and more aware of how often we’re not expected to do so (especially women!).
Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in below in the comments to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.