My kids ask me questions every minute we are together.
“Daddy, can we go out and build a fort?”
“Can I have a banana?”
“Will you play horses with me?”
“Can I be all done?”
If you’re a parent, you know the drill. The sheer volume of questions in such rapid succession is overwhelming. I can’t keep my mind on the task at hand because I’m always making decisions about their actions. And I know my answers will create responses – angry, disappointed, or overjoyed. And I must be prepared to back up my answer, stick to it under further pleading or not-yet-shared information, and deal with the screaming crying fit that could quite possibly explode.
So I often do the worst thing available to me. I answer, “Maybe.”
As little kids we all knew “Maybe” meant no. It was just sugar coated, delayed, stalled, avoided.
Seth Godin says, “The opposite of yes is maybe. Because maybe is non-definitive, and both yes and no give us closure and the chance to move ahead.”
I don’t want to be a “Maybe” dad. I want my yeses to be as frequent as possible, and my nos to be firm, given with a cheerful smile, and meaningful. When I answer yes, I won’t retract it. They can count on it. And when I answer no, it really means no. They can move on mentally to something else.
The same principle overflows into any realm of influence. When someone invites me to a party, how do I reply? When my wife asks if I can fix the broken lamp, what do I say? When my employee or pupil asks for help or a raise, how do my words or actions respond?
There is a second part to this thought. My grandfather is famous for not responding to a question at all. He has a hearing problem anyway, but we laugh about how he takes so long to reply to questions that we don’t know if he really heard us or not.
I’m catching his bad habit. It’s a escape mechanism, a way to stall while I think. It’s not wrong to avoid a hastily given answer, but I do need to at least acknowledge the question! I don’t want to run and hide from hard questions. I want to become a man who faces them, keeps his joy, and brings wisdom and generosity to the world around him.
Yes Son, you can have a banana.