Nancy Reagan might have been a generation too lame to suggest “Just say no” to millions of teens in mid-sensory explosion, but saying “No” does definitively answer questions. Nancy’s Greatest Generation may have had a latent nostalgia for the benefits of Prohibition, but “No” can be a productive mindset.
Just as ethanol’s benefits ultimately outweighed its tragedies, “Yes” has been the dominant paradigm for both Boomers and their issue, with mixed results.
Millions of Boomer Offspring are confronting life beyond the bubble we blew for them. The consequences of saying “Yes” have become all too evident for many of them.
“Yes” to T-Ball meant that the non-athletic simulated athleticism. “Yes” to unauditioned Youth Orchestras meant the tone deaf pantomimed those who could play. “Leadership” programs afford that description to any breathing human who can pay the freight, no matter how introverted they are.
The attitude that “Yes is More” created the insane collegiate assault that followed: often 15 college applications or more – each to a potentially “perfect fit” institutions. The results were often hilariously self-congratulatory – a couple of “Yes’” became “fabulous,” – those often numerous “No’s” simply vanished from any state of being.
“Having it all” might have been my generation’s measure of happiness, but expecting every aspect of a life to be fulfilling at all times makes failure inevitable. Perhaps there is a person who has no regrets, no guilt or no fears but I have never met him or her…
Using a shotgun approach does work to diagnose allergies, speed-dating gatherings and when assembling an army by conscription, but it just may be that “No” definitely works better now than it ever has.
Our collection cultural default of “Yes” has meant endless half-measure failures and successes. Time becomes a slurry of undifferentiated tidal efforts – added by the internet. Once upon a time the Mad Men World of Work was sequestered into one sealed spectrum of place and effort and hobbies were an alternative universe, with family silted in between. Today these once compartmentalized worlds have oozed into an all work and all play all the time universe – to the detriment of all.
Our children defer all scheduling until the last text, because their childhood had Life Concierges, (their parents), and since schedule overload was their modus operandi and we took all control of it out of their hands, they are left with a low-level hum of vagueness about almost everything once we are held at some distance.
There is no “dating,” – amorous pursuits are framed by “hanging out” and/or “chillin’” in small packs or interwoven wanderings. When the order at Starbucks is given to Boomer spawn each of the 4 or 7 prompts is sequentially ignored as the next up is scribbled on each cup as repetitious mantras of reinforcement were the Millenial’s way of processing parental over-focusing upon their lives. “Whatever” is this generation’s “Semper Fi.”
What seems to work amid the abiding low-level chaos is “No.”
Winnowing out the back ground noise makes the sour and sweet notes audible. The one benefit of the Betty Draper parenting mode was the absence of stimuli. “No” was not said in response to a suggestion, it was the basis of my day to day life growing up.
No organized youth sports meant that when some hormonal imbalance meant I wanted to play football, it became all-consuming, versus just another voice in a Tabernacle Choir of “activities.” Given how bad an athlete I was, that level of dedication, blind as it was, was the only way I could have played.
Thinning a herd of distractions is much easier if you are raised as a lone wolf.
My sons have slid into life foci without a lot of angst or confusion simply because they were able to say “No” despite our eagerness for every “Yes.” Maybe our fairly bleak childhoods meant that my wife and I knew less was not nothing…
With this mindset I said “No” to “hobbies” save Kamikaze Gardening circumscribed by daybreak, nightfall and an overwhelmed calendar – leaving only Work and Family.
But now “Work” has morphed to everything on my desk, iPhone and brain 24/7, and “Family” is now 4 adults, versus a binary of parents and a binary of children. Middle Age has settled nothing – in fact it’s becoming more complicated.
“No” has become the harder choice in this unrelenting world of limitless availability. Whether it’s the 2AM e-mail, or the Sunday AM editing request or the client who can only meet after 7PM, or the lure of a child’s game or concert now hundreds of miles away, or just a meal with my wife, no “Yes” comes without a negative consequence or 3.
“No” in the land of “Now” gets harder and harder to pull off. But the “Big No,” (to life in this temporal plane), has begun to inevitably, if sporadically, punctuate this newly absurd framing of time as open-ended.
Despite the universal world clock our phones, DVR’s and computers offer up, what is unrelenting now ultimately does have a hard stop for each of us. Absent that “No,” almost everything we do has absurdly overblown importance.
Without “No” we lose what “Yes” should mean: the joyful hug of what we love. For me that might not mean smelling roses, but it does give space to plant them.