On Becoming More of a Pr#@k
What we’re really talking about is learning how to say no. (Thanks to Fabian Pallares who suggested this topic in a Comment two weeks ago after our post, An Ask Too Far.)
When Gates of Fire was first optioned by Universal Studios in 1998, the director Michael Mann was attached. I sent him hand-written congratulations and a signed first edition. I never heard a peep. I thought, “What a prick!”
The same thing happened with Robert Redford on The Legend of Bagger Vance. Again I thought, “What a prick!”
But I gotta tell you, the more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more I see both Mann and Redford’s point of view.
They have to protect their time. Their assistants have to keep “asks” and potential “asks” at bay. Surely both directors thought, if in fact they ever got my packages, “Uh-oh, this writer’s going to be a major pain in the ass; the last thing I need on the set is some hyper-possessive literary type peering over my shoulder saying, ‘I would’ve shot that scene differently.'”
(Whether a movie director should meet with the writer of a book he’s adapting is a whole other question. Don’t get me started on that one.)
The bottom line on saying no to “asks” is this: if it’s okay to ask (and it is), then it’s okay to blow off an ask. We’re not being pricks; we’re protecting our time.
The key point that Ken makes is that when we say yes to one person or activity, we’re simultaneously—whether we realize it or not—saying no to another person or activity.
The example Ken gives is if he says yes to a business associate who wants to meet on Tuesday afternoon, he’s saying no to his eight-year-daughter who has a soccer game at that time and really wants her Dad to be there to watch her play.
Is Ken being a prick for choosing his daughter over his business associate?
Let’s take the principle a step further. What if it’s ourselves we’re protecting? Is that “selfish?” What if we’re defending our time to work? Or our hour at the gym? What if we just need a nap? What if we’re protecting our time to stare out the window and do nothing at all?
That hour counts too. You and I have every right to keep it sacred.
What makes it difficult to say no to many asks is that they come from good people inquiring in a good cause. Many asks are motivated by respect and appreciation. It’s an honor to receive such asks. You and I want to respond with respect and to honor the correspondent in return. Hopefully most of the time we can.
And many asks are opportunities as well. For friendship, for profit, for fun. The question, again, is priority. As Dan Glickman says, “If you say yes to X, you’re simultaneously saying no to Y.” (I can’t tell you how many invitations to play golf I’ve turned down, so I could stay home and write.) That’s my priority.
The elephant in the room is, of course, Resistance. Resistance loves “asks”—particularly legitimate, tempting or well-intentioned ones. Because when we say yes to our friend who wants us to do that benefit program, we’re saying no to a day’s work.
Am I a prick if I say no?
Which brings us to the elephant inside the elephant. The real question is: Do I care?
My problem, personally, is I do. I consider this a character flaw. I’m crazy to care. I like myself much better when I draw the line and say no. I hate myself for saying yes to something I don’t want to do, purely because I don’t want to be thought of as a bad guy. No one else is tyrannizing me. I’m tyrannizing myself by allowing myself to be manipulated by my own overconcern for the good opinion of others.
I’ve gotta work on that.
I gotta become more of a prick.