Saying No

No is more powerful than yes. Have you noticed? Those individuals and groups that most often say no exert an undue negative power on those who say yes. It’s an organizational dynamic. The nay sayers in most circumstances cast a pall over enthusiasm and can even suck the oxygen from the room.

I’ve worked in various organizations as a volunteer and as staff long enough to observe this dynamic. In journalism it’s especially true because in this field it’s likely that writers and producers are inquisitive, charging individuals who don’t want to hear the word no when they propose a story idea. And that’s exactly as it should be.

But I’ve observed the power of no in religious organizations as well and I’ve seen how the naysayers and control freaks can reduce a creative idea to mush. And that’s a sad state for a religious person because it is ultimately unfaithful. In the Christian faith belief in the mystery and omnipresent spirit of the Creator is central. It shapes what faith is about. The Christian faith is built upon the belief that God says yes and is present in our lives as the motivating force. The Incarnation-God come to us in the person of Jesus-is the ultimate act of saying yes to us. So religious people who say no more often than yes risk losing the capacity to discover that God is in unknown, even in the chaos. And we miss the unexpected realization that God is in our midst.

The idea that God is out there beyond our everyday, mundane experiences is common. This thought holds God as an absolute beyond our reach. The idea that God is in our midst puts God at the center of the ordinary and in a paradoxical way perceives the sacred in everything.

But the frequent act of saying no to the new and unexpected, or even the frighteningly different, easily leads to closing the door on this attitude of openness that allows us to perceive God in our midst. It shuts down creativity, exhausts energy and takes the oxygen from the room.

I’ve been in some rooms devoid of oxygen the last couple of days, rooms where control has taken precedence. And it has caused me to wonder if the organizations that are entangled in the grips of the fear that they are losing control have much of a future. The tighter the grip the less creativity. The less creativity the less innovation. The less innovation the less attraction to new thinking and new people. Eventually the grip is so tight it suffocates.

I want to say, loosen up. It’s going to be OK. You only think you’re in control, anyway. In God’s world, we’re all invited to explore and seek. You don’t control it and the energy you’re shutting down will appear somewhere else because that’s the way Creation is constructed. It’s the physics of the universe, the physical and spiritual universe.

Leonard Sweet in his latest book The Gospel According to Starbucks, provides an apt pullquote that best describes the meetings I’m referring to:

“Organizations dominated by control, compliance and compartmentalization (the three C’s) are being outpaced by organizations that focus on ideas, information, and interactions (the three I’s),” a statement by management expert Manfred Kets de Vries.

A few years ago sociologist Lyle Schaller wrote a book about the decline of mainline denominations titled The Ice Cube is Melting. After seeing what I’ve seen the last couple of days I think a more apt description today might be the oxygen is escaping the room.

One Response to “Saying No”

  1. Gates Keeper September 23, 2007 at 10:43 pm #

    There is a blog on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that may interest you

    Gates Keepers


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