Nobody wants to say “no”

Something Michele Bachmann said in this Wall Street Journal interview has stuck in mind since I read it.  When asked about what caused the housing crisis, she said:

Nobody wanted to say, ‘No.’

She’s right.  Nobody wanted to say “no” to folks who had not yet demonstrated the financial or personal responsibility to own and care for a home.

One way to help such folks become homeowners would be to encourage and teach the behavior that generally leads to successful home ownership.  That would include things like:

  • Develop marketable skills, show up to work, establish a relatively stable earnings and employment history and save.
  • Live within your means so you can save to make a down payment.
  • Factor in and budget all costs including mortgage, taxes, insurance, repairs, upkeep and updating and make sure those can fit within your income and savings without much trouble.
  • Gain a better understanding of the demands of ownership responsibilities — like mowing the lawn and maintaining plumbing.
  • Agree to a mortgage — amount and terms — that is not likely to put you into financial difficulty.

But, instead of encouraging these time proven methods for leading up to successful home ownership, we chose to view these qualifiers as barriers and dismantled them.  I still remember my real estate agent’s horror when I told him that I was only putting down less than 20% on my first home.  He grew up in a different world where that was unheard of.

The reason Bachmann’s words have stuck with me is because I see the reluctance to say “no” in so many areas of our lives and it usually doesn’t end well.

We hear about indulgent parents who can’t say “no” to their kids.  Then we often hear about how these kids turn into adult brats and struggle when someone in the real world does tell them “no”.

Health care reform, similar to government intervention in housing, is really about avoiding saying or hearing “no” (even when it is the person most affected that says it).  Though, eventually it means either going broke or transferring the power to say “no” from individuals to politically-motivated committees.

Apparently, quite a few of the people who have tried out for American Idol have not had anyone in their lives with enough guts to tell them that “no” they do not have singing talent.

We don’t want to tell some students that “no” they have not demonstrated satisfactory mastery of academic requirements to advance a grade level, or earn a diploma or be admitted to college.  We don’t want to tell bad teachers, “no” they cannot keep their jobs.  We also don’t want to tell their parents that “no”, your child cannot attend school because his or her behavior is not acceptable.

Sometimes we have a difficult time telling elected officials who do not uphold their oaths of office and who lack basic decorum that “no” they cannot represent us any longer.

Being told “no” can be rough, but it is not the end of the world.  I’ve been told “no” plenty.   I do not like it.  But, it is an effective feedback and I learned to deal with it.

Did being rejected by some potential employers stop me from looking for a job?  No.  But it did make me evaluate how to better demonstrate my abilities.

Was I angry when a college prof told me “no” he would not accept my (rather poor) excuse for not completing some important homework on time?  Sure.  But, then I applied myself and did well in the class.

Rather than changing the rules so we can avoid saying or hearing “no”, perhaps the more sustainable approach is to help folks deal with it when they are told “no”.

The heart of an innovative and resilient society are folks who can handle hearing “no” and often figure out alternative ways to achieve their goals.  Simon Cowell was told “no,” he was not a good singer.  But, he has done very well in the entertainment industry (telling many others “no” and telling a few “yes”).

Where folks bend over backward to avoid saying “no” you’ll find defeatism and dependence — folks who come to expect others to bail them out when things get rough.

3 thoughts on “Nobody wants to say “no”

  1. Seth:

    Thomas Sowell makes a good point: people like to call economics the dismal science. Why? The charts and graphs? The dryness of the subject? Wrong! It’s known as the dismal science because economics is “the original party of no“. No you can’t base policy on the “way things ought to be”. No, hope is not a strategy. No, you can’t base things on “fair”. 90% of the ideas that politicos come up with are half baked and merely lead to cascading unintended consequences, hence 90% of the time all the social ideas are not economically feasible and hence the answer to the proposed idea is NO!


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