The longer I live, the more I realize that the world is divided into two kinds of people: The takers and the givers. The “takers” always seem to feel entitled to take — or demand or ask for — whatever it is they want, as if they have some divine, pre-ordained right to it. The “givers” have a seemingly endless generosity of spirit that compels them to help others.
The problem is, “givers” have to learn not to always be taken by “takers.” You’ve met takers before. — the friend who asks to come visit for a week and stays for a month, the relative who borrows money and never seems to pay it back or the business colleague who always ask you to cover for him or her.
Takers don’t know another way to get through life. In this sense, they truly need the givers. But the givers don’t necessarily have to be victims of these out-of-control takers. They need to learn to say no.
Recently, when I was complaining to two very wise women friends about people who had imposed upon my hospitality, they gave me some excellent advice that I am more than happy to pass along to fellow givers. A person I barely knew had asked in several ways to invade my home for a couple of days. The names and specifics have to remain my secret. I didn’t know how to refuse her requests and so I acquiesced, regretting it from that moment.
“Whenever someone asks you for more than you can or want to give,” my friend Patricia told me, “all you have to say is, ‘That wouldn’t work for me.’ Don’t explain, don’t apologize, just use that phrase.”
I was so struck by the perfection of such a response that I was speechless for a moment. It fulfilled all my requirements: I could refuse without being rude or making up some lie or excuse to avoid doing something I didn’t want to do and the person making the request had no right to ask of me. It set limits on the other person in a polite but firm way. And it would surely save me from the resentment I had felt in the past from just giving in to over-the-top requests.
My other friend, Ellen, assured me that goodness and kindness did not require self-sacrifice. I needed the reminder. Patricia’s mantra of “That wouldn’t work for me” had freed me of some ugly obligations as easily as a knot coming undone.
Takers would have a lot harder time of it if givers just took a stand.
So now I’m ready. The next time someone asks for something totally out of the question, I can smile sweetly and say, “That wouldn’t work for me.” And I know I always will hear the delighted giggle of my friend Patricia whenever I invoke her magic words.