When my husband Tzvi was ill many friends offered their help. Some asked me explicitly what we needed, and others made different and thoughtful gestures. I remember a group of friends from work who came over and took my husband to sit by the sea.
One of my friends, a widow herself, called me and said how grateful she was for all the help I had given her at the time when her husband was ill. She said that she wanted to reciprocate, but added that, unlike me, she could not visit Tzvi at the hospital. She asked whether there was something else that she could do. Since she had asked, I tried to think of something appropriate for her to do and found, what I considered to be, a small thing. When I told her she immediately responded: ”this I cannot do.” I was really taken aback, as it wasn’t that I who had pursued her to ask for her help, she had offered it.
I am not saying that she had to help me with my request, but saying no especially at a time like that was very unfortunate. Rather than refusing she could have said that she would try, that she would see what could be done, that she would ask around. Saying that she would try did not mean that she would actually do it, it only meant that she would not close the door on the chance to help. Often people ask you things that, at that time, you have no idea how you could help with their request. Not saying no allows for the possibility to keep on looking for ways to help so that eventually a solution for the problem could be found.
By saying no we just push the request away without ever thinking about it again.
I like to think of myself as a helpful person, but as a result of that incident I became even more careful with my response to people’s requests. Saying yes means that I try harder, it makes the person who is in need feel better, as it is not easy to ask for help. It also makes me feel better, and in general it brings good will and positive energy to the relationship, and helps it grow.
The other night a group of us sat together and discussed insights which we have collected throughout our life. Mine was about the empowering effect of the words "I shall try." I acknowledge the importance of the word 'no' when we talk about violence, danger, the law and drugs, among others. However, in interpersonal relationships, when we do our best not to refuse another person's request we make our world a little better.