Do you find it hard to say ‘no‘? By the same token, how easy is it for you to accept rejection? In reality, these are two sides of the same coin in respect to how developed your ’emotional intelligence’ is … and perhaps how stable you are as an individual. Now to be honest, if you are already questioning your stability, then you might as well question that of society’s, as well … as I often do on this blog.
Back when I was in kindergarten, I distinctly remember being told “when you grow up you can be anything you want, even the President of the United States!” In retrospect, I wonder what the point of this ‘pie in the sky’ pep talk was? On the surface, it was surely to motivate us kids to succeed in life. Certainly it was to inspire us to set goals and to be all that we were born to be. Yes yes, we all know teachers are liars but …
I can’t help but wonder at times if we go ‘Pollyanna’ on kids just to allow them to ‘dream big’ a bit before the sobering reality of existence comes crashing down around them. When we admonish kids to ‘be all they can be’, are we really in fact just setting them up for failure? Could it be that we actually instructing them to be all ‘we want’ them to be or all ‘we feel’ they should be? Is motivating kids to set lofty goals really about our imposing our expectations and will on them?
Success, like change, is not something that can be willed onto others; they have to want it for themselves – as much as an alcoholic has to want to quit drinking, or a smoker has to want to put down those ‘coffin nails’. It’s true that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink … even if you beat it, threaten it or even make it feel guilty. So I think our time would be better spent teaching kids to deal with rejection rather than setting them down a path that will ultimately lead them to, on one extreme, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Accepting rejection and learning to let go of the perceived stigma is essential in learning to ‘move on‘ in life – which is really what matters most. In fact, it’s a skill we should learn all learn early in life. Kids need to be taught that rejection happens and that it’s just a part of life.
In fact, this is a truth that we as adults need to be reminded of every now and then. Learning how to roll with life’s punches and move onto greener pastures will ultimately benefit us more than learning how to stick around and bang our heads against a wall in humiliation and denial.
We all need to face up to the fact that we can’t control everything in life, people and situations alike. Success, happiness, and harmony just doesn’t follow because you want it to. People won’t say ‘yes’ to you simply because you ask them to. Happy endings are never guaranteed. However, that doesn’t mean that all in life is sour.
In fact, I would suggest that ‘failure’, in many respects, is what makes us appreciate the good things in life when we do get the chance to experience them. Rejection itself may in reality be a blessing in disguise, because it’s a learning and personal growth opportunity. So there is sour and then there is sweet; the yin and yang of life that also happens to make one helluva a spare rib sauce! Emotionally intelligent people know this.
As a life skill, accepting rejection has a lot to do with developing ‘emotional intelligence’, as does learning to say ‘no’. This is what I call the two sides of ‘just saying no’. It presents growth opportunities for both sides of the statement.
As for our kids, yes we do want them to dream big. However, we also want them to be realistic, especially as they age – in fact, as well all age! We should want them to set achievable goals for themselves, so that they gain self-confidence, self-worth and self-efficacy.
Dialing For Rejection
Many years ago, I had the misfortune of working in the wonderful work of telemarketing. I was told by my supervisors that when I encounter rejection or resistance to my pitch, I should simply ‘talk louder’. For every “I told you I’m not interested” I should pump up the volume louder and louder until the person either hangs up or says yes.
It’s because of this that I have very little tolerance for telemarketers who call me, especially those who try desperately to woo me into their confidence with their wooden personalities and perfunctory reading skills. My usual non-verbal response is a swift slamming of the phone on some object before hanging up. I used to just hang up faster than the speed of sound, but I eventually learned that the ‘click’ of an impassioned ‘disconnection’ arrives before the sonic boom initiated by my action.
Salesman are often told that a sale begins when the client says ‘no’. In other words a ‘no’ really means “yes, I’d like more information”. Rapists sort of have the same mindset. I think you know where I’m going with this.
It seems to me we don’t teach children how to question life’s indignities, especially when it involves some form of authority. I’m not talking about rebellion here. I’m simply talking about questioning the circumstances of what life hands them. Instead of fostering self-worth in children, we (in the form of our systems of education) foster in them a fear of failure. In a perverse way, the motivation not to fail is ultimately stronger than the motivation to succeed. The result is that we breed fear, stifle critical thinking skills, and force negative identities on our young – negative self images that in some cases stick for life.
For example, when handed poor grades on exams, many kids simply accept it. I know I did. I failed so many exams in my life I could paper a trail to the moon and back. When I was younger, I simply gave into the inevitability of defeat. I eventually didn’t even bother to stave off academic failure; I just accepted it. I never thought to even question the teacher, the material, the exam itself … until I went numb.
At that point, I came to terms with the fact that ‘life went on’ regardless of whether I passed or failed any given exam. Coming to this realization allowed me to devalue the negative stigma attached to ‘failing’. The mindset afforded me the breathing space to focus less on failure and on my short comings, and more on ‘moving past’ any particular negative moment I might experience. I grew a thick skin in some respects and a healthy ‘defense mechanism’ to boot.
Realizing there was more to life than school and academic achievement also made me begin to question the reality of everything, especially the shove by others to live up to their expectations. As a result, you may say ironically, I became a better student and more importantly a better person than my ‘report card’ or grades even suggested.
I also began to question the concept of authority, especially in regards to my teachers. It should go without saying that it’s one thing to respect authority when it, like trust, is earned. It’s another to teach children to give in to the illusion of authority. Just because some ‘Joe Schmoe’ happened to fill out a teaching application for a teaching job and got hired does not mean that he suddenly is bestowed a license to govern.
It’s really the same with any form of authority or government. I’m not necessarily advocating anarchism here or espousing a ‘V for Vendetta’ overtone, but I do think what rings true is that people shouldn’t fear government; government should fear people.
In this respect, I think it’s tragic we don’t teach our children to question authority, or for example in exam situations to even bother asking the teacher where they may have gone wrong. We hardly teach children to be autonomous learners or to embrace life. Instead, we teach them to sit still, shut up and listen. We teach them to march to the beat of the same drum as everyone else, and in turn we create a society of mindless automatons; consumers led to the market; lambs led to the slaughter, metaphorically speaking.
Just Say ‘No’
There are some who go through life expecting everything to fall into place. Each and every hurdle in life is merely a challenge to overcome; accepting objection and rejection for them are just not options. We call such people ‘assholes’, and they are as fake as the grand Wizard of Oz. I’m sure you’ve met a few in school, at work, in government, in relationships and generally at large.
To combat these types, it’s therefore important we learn to stand up for our ideas and opinions. Personal growth begins with developing good habits and skills that lead to strong emotional intelligence and character. Learning to say ‘no’ when you feel justified is just a small step in the right direction, and it gets easier with each utterance. Worrying how others might disapprove of you is really just a fruitless bad habit.
Anyway, I’ve argued before that some of those ‘others’ you are so worried about, could probably care less about you in the first place, so just forget about them. By the same token, don’t take rejection personally and consider failure as just another learning experience.
When in doubt, just say no – and then don’t think twice, it’s all right.