Getting To “No.” Questioning Language of Negativity

“Would you mind doing the dishes tonight?”
So requests seem to be phrased these days. The only way to properly agree to the request, when you are willing and able, is to respond “No, I don’t mind.”

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A few months ago I went on a campaign with my teenaged daughter, asking her to make her requests in a more positive light. After all, I reasoned, I mostly am willing to help when asked, so why not try “Dad, would you like to ____?” or “Dad, would you please _____?” The answer then, more often than not, would be “Yes.” But I’ve given up. This use of language is so common that I can’t expect her to accommodate my preference when she hears requests like this all the time. But I think it is worth exploring more publicly. I’ll write (rave) about it here, then I’ll just accept whatever language is used as gracefully as I’m able!
When and why did the word “mind” start to be associated with a negative thought or experience? “Mind your Ps and Qs!” just means pay attention, but in these “requests for a ‘No'”, “mind” is associated with “dislike” or “undesirable.” That is an unfortunate use, considering our minds play a staring role in every one of our thoughts! The implication seems to be that when we “mind” something, it is spoiled with thoughts of distain and regret, if we think of it at all.
As a regular attendee at the local Mindfulness Practice Center, I find this trend in language rather troubling! Our sangha strives to support each other in mindful living as a primary spiritual practice. This certainly does not mean we want to have negative thoughts about the things we do! When we do the dishes “mindfully,” we are grateful for the convenience of hot running water. We lovingly clean each item to make it ready for our future use. The rhythmic motion of our hands over the dish lends itself to a meditative, peaceful state mind.
When I asked my daughter about the benefits of this mode of request, she said it was just being polite. By asking if I “mind,” she is communicating no presumption of agreement. But the presumption must also be that the agreeing to the request is undesirable. Since it is, the question is not just if I accept, but also if the reaction of my mind while filling the request be amenable to my agreement? I suppose in some respects that is being polite. But the underlying negativity seems clear.
I’ve been thinking about giving and receiving quite a bit lately. I’m on the core team working to strengthen our local Timebank. The basic idea of which is to use a website to communicate needs and offers of assistance and track the exchanges of time in electronic accounts of “hours.” If you think of these hours as money, then this system allows everyone to play the role of the Federal Reserve (and other banks) to make the stuff as needed. Pretty cool, right?
The problem is that many people in our culture are loath to receive anything without a monetary exchange. I once spent the better part of a whole afternoon trying to give away 7 one dollar bills to total strangers. Most people simply looked at me strangely and walked away without a response, when I held the money in front of them and simply said “Here, take this it is yours!” This exercise was homework for a course I was taking on abundance. It was a powerful lesson that I’ll never forget. If you don’t believe me, give it a try. It is worth the time and you meet some cool people by the time you have managed to find 7 that will accept!
I’ve also been thinking about giving and receiving in the context of my spiritual communities. The subject came up at the Mindfulness Center recently, in the form of the word “generosity.” So I had to mention the issue of willingness to receive in that discussion.
Jesus taught us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I wonder how that thought was seen in his day? I suspect his disciples, who were by most accounts spiritually advanced people themselves, interpreted this teaching quite differently than many people in our modern, consumer culture. If we see a blessing from God as the highest goal, and we follow the primary teaching of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, we would naturally want to see our them blessed. Thus, requesting help from our neighbor provides them a blessed opportunity! This was also the logic, perhaps described in different words, behind the tradition of Buddhist monks going from door to door with their begging bowls for their food.
So next time you ask someone for a favor, remember that it goes both ways. If they agree, you will receive the gift of some time saved (or other benefit) and they will gain the good karma from their blessed generosity! Most people with whom we have meaningful relationships feel good about helping us, even if they are not Christians or spiritual people that would resonate with this post. So don’t presume that their minds are full of distain and regret. If you can find it in your heart to assume the best, you can use phrase a request that can be answered with a “Yes!”

2 thoughts on “Getting To “No.” Questioning Language of Negativity

  1. Anna

    I don’t remember ever hearing your thoughts on the use of the word “mind,” as it pertained to thinking and “using one’s mind” being negative. That is really intriguing and more compelling than the arguments I remember you using. But then, I am a visual learner so perhaps I just needed to read it to understand.

    I really like your points on giving and receiving, and the idea that to request help is to give someone else a “blessed opportunity.” That is a really sweet thought that I think a lot of my compassionate, faithful, guilty friends could benefit from. It’s really quite paradoxical if you think about it in these terms. Christianity is supposed to be about “saving” everyone around you and not just yourself, but if giving is more sacred than receiving, would you not want everyone around you to give just as much as you do?

    1. david Post author

      Anna,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I don’t remember exactly how I tried to convince you to use a different phrase to make requests. I believe you are probably right about the use of the word “mind” not being part of my initial thoughts on this subject. This post does go into a bit more depth on the subject, as often happens when I start to write.

      It is true that some evangelical Christians emphasize “saving” others by conversion to their beliefs. My understanding of early Christian practice was to emphasize loving actions over beliefs. “The way” was about how to live, more than what to believe.

      Love,
      Dad

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