a blog by J.M. Cottle
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“No” is not a four-letter word

A few days ago, a co-worker invited me to a shooting range. I declined, and when questioned further I said that guns don’t interest me. When asked if I had ever tried shooting a gun before, I said that I hadn’t, and naturally I was asked, “How do you know you don’t like guns if you’ve never used one?” I said that I don’t know if I would like using them or not, but I am not interested enough to try it, and I was promptly disparaged for my inability to feel adrenaline. Another co-worker said that he hates it when people refuse to try things out of prejudice, because he believes that you should try everything at least once. I was asked a couple more times if I was sure I didn’t want to go.

Irked as I was at having to repeat myself and at being told I don’t experience adrenaline, I couldn’t tell if they were just messing with me, and I didn’t care. I said that I wasn’t interested, and that I don’t like it when people try to make me do something I don’t want to do, and I left it at that.

The argument for trying everything once can be useful.

Sometimes there are things I really want to do, but I’m scared. This is when I remind myself that I won’t know if I like it or not until I try it. It feels much different from being uninterested — in these cases, I’m very interested, but I can’t decide whether or not to go ahead. Recently I came to the conclusion that if I’m scared of something that isn’t a threat to my health, it’s probably important to me and I should do it. (That’s why I started a blog.)

If I’m not scared and I just don’t want to do something, I find it can be very hard to make people accept my answer. After all, am I not being closed-minded when I say that I don’t feel like trying something even once? What if it could turn out to be my new passion? Trying new things can lead to all sorts of excitement and adventure — the things that make life interesting. Do I want to miss out on that because I didn’t say “yes”?

Actually, sometimes, I do.

Let’s take an example: I never purposely drank alcohol until after college. (I say “purposely” because one time in sixth grade someone forgot to inform me that there was rum in the egg nog and I drank about four glasses. It didn’t seem to have any effect.) In college I was offered many, many alcoholic beverages, and I politely declined every time. From the evidence available to me, I had decided that I was not interested in trying it, and most people were content to leave me alone — some even lauded my choice, saying that they wished they didn’t drink. I don’t really know why they continued to do it, then, but there you have it.

The key here is that I never made claims about whether or not I would like drinking. I didn’t know that without having tried. All I knew was that I wasn’t interested in trying.

After college I tried a few sips of alcohol, mostly various kinds of beer but also wine and a few mixed drinks, and in Northern Ireland I ordered a shot of Bailey’s. Most of these drinks tasted terrible to me. It makes no difference. Even if I had loved every single one of them and now wanted to drink all the time (I don’t plan on drinking alcohol again), I would stand by my decision not to do something that wasn’t attractive to me. I don’t think that makes me a boring or cowardly person. I think it makes me a strong person. Non-drinkers often face a lot of pressure, and standing up to that can be difficult. If you do think that makes me boring, then perhaps you would be happier spending time with someone you find less boring.

If the alcohol example is not convincing, how about sex?

When my co-workers were saying “you can’t know until you try it”, I was reminded of how often this argument is used to invalidate the experience of asexuals. People tell us that if we haven’t tried sex, we can’t know if we will like it or not, therefore we don’t know if we’re asexual. I have so many problems with this… I will just cover a few:

  • First of all, asexuality is not a dislike of sex, but a lack of sexual attraction. There are asexuals who like sex and there are those who don’t. Sexual orientation is not about behavior.
  • Second, there are people who are interested in trying sex, and there are people who aren’t, and it is really honestly okay not to be interested in trying it. If the whole idea just makes you shrug your shoulders and go “meh” — or makes you convulse in horror — then please, do not feel that you have to try it.
  • Third, if someone tries to guilt you into trying it with them, that’s attempted rape, so let’s not go there, okay?

Maybe if my co-workers bring up the issue of me not wanting to try things again, I will suggest that they go have sex with each other. They have given decent evidence that they are both straight men, but hey, they can’t know if they’re interested in gay male sex until they try it!


Of course, you may change your mind later.

And that is just fine. Whatever it is, whether it’s sex or drinking alcohol or dancing or skydiving or shooting guns or writing a blog, if it calls to you, then I think it’s good to try it and find out if you like it, even if you were previously uninterested — even if you vowed never to do it. I am a huge fan of unapologetically changing one’s mind. I think I’ll quote Emerson, even though he said in this very same essay that you shouldn’t quote people. Too bad, Emerson.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.— ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ —Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Maybe someday I will want to go to a firing range. I can see myself wanting to learn something about guns for character research. But I will not allow anyone to guilt me into doing something that doesn’t interest me, and I certainly will not do it with someone who doesn’t respect my “no”.

2 Responses to “No” is not a four-letter word

  1. The trick with the “how do you know until you’ve tried it?” is to turn it around and twist it until the other person is uncomfortable enough to understand the its futility.

    (Although, I do have a friend who goes by “you have to try it three times until you’re sure you don’t like it” – and oh the things we’ve gotten him to do!)

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