These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Yes and No.

Posted on December 11, 2013 by Alanna Kleinman

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Lonnie Kleinman

Last week, in Self Soul & Text with Rav James, we talked about concepts of generosity and opening oneself up to giving. We were given the assignment to “just say yes” for one week, and then to “say no” for half a week. This practice just so happened to coincide with Thanksgiving, with Hannukah, and with my one-week trip to Greece. I decided to take the plunge and push myself to say lots of yes(es).

This has been done before, many times. Movies have been made about it. But I would never think of actually committing to something so foolish as saying yes to everything (that isn’t dangerous). Truth is, it’s just not in my nature. It’s much easier for me to say yes to a few social things per week and spend the rest of the time saying no and retreating happily to time spent alone.

I want to share some of these moments with you:

Day One: I instinctively said no to something I thought I didn’t have time for. As I was walking away, I took a moment to pause and reconsider and realized that my plans later that night were flexible. I turned back around and said “yes.” I spent that afternoon delivering Hannukah gifts (books) to unsuspecting homes associated with Pardes. I drove around neighborhoods of Jerusalem with four other students, stopping to knowck on doors and literally spread some holiday cheer. The reactions were remarkable, ranging from “what a special Hannukah gift!” to, “you’ve made my week.” Though I wound up rushing to dinner, I made it with plenty of time to get multiple servings of Thanksgiving food and saying yes was my favorite thing that day.

Day Two: I said yes to meeting my madrich from my gap year program, his wife, and new born baby for a walk. Along the way, I said yes to a deaf man selling slips of how-to-do hebrew sign language. This was my first yes to charity for the week. I realized that I have become so accustomed to instantly saying no to inquisitions for money on the street; I’m not quite sure why.

Day Three: Today, I flew to Greece. My flight left at 6 am so we wound up staying awake all night and arrived in Crete around noon. After landing, we grabbed our bags and headed to pick up the rental car. We were given a choice of three cars, and I wound up saying yes to the salesmen’s favorite car. Hello little red toyota Yaris. Once we made it to our hotel, the hotel owner offered us a tour of the area in his car. We hopped in, stopped for coffee along the way, and were invited to visit a private art museum the following day and go out for one drink in the city center that night.

Typically, I would say no to drinks with a strange Greek man (not because I felt unsafe in this situation, but because my introverted self would very much prefer walking around the beach alone at night to a crowded bar full of strangers).

One drink became three drinks, some Raki, and an assortment of food at three separate bars. The first bar was tucked away in an alleyway, packed full of people and an in-house dj. I had some sort of hip vodka, beetroot-infused, coriander concoction here. The second was a well-established rock bar that played 80s classics, and the third was an alley cafe bursting with late night dinner crowds. Greek hospitality is remarkable- our host pretended he would let me pay but managed to grab the waiter before I could every time.

Day Four: On a day full of driving, I decided to say yes a bit figuratively. Greeks don’t really listen to driving laws; it seems lights and stop signs are suggestions and lines on the road are merely decoration. When a car would attempt to pass me, today I moved over to easily to let them in, and decided to say yes to all of the traffic laws. I even went the speed limit while other drivers angrily sped past me. I stopped for a red light with no cars coming the opposite direction, and listened gleefully to the sound of ringing horns behind me.

For the record, I think I’m going to say yes to this behavior for the rest of my life.

Day Five: Yet again, I said yes to meeting my hotel owner for drinks. This time, we hung out with the college student and her 5 other friends at a laid back bar on the pier for hours. I said yes to shots of raki and traditional Greek beer. The final yes of the evening came to free ice cream. Why not?

Day Six: Day six, it stormed tumultuously all day long. We were staying in an old town, right on the coast. Gusts of wind burst through the streets and waves splashed onto the peer, making it impossible to walk on the main street. Today, I said yes to staying in all day and taking some time  to relax. This is something I have trouble being okay with . Even when I am sick and know I need to be sleeping, I won’t fully accept that fate. Being okay with taking time for rest and saying yes to me taking care of myself made this one of my favorite days.

Day Seven: This last day involved, among other things, going in search of a botanical park tucked into the hills. The park itself was closed but we said yes to exploring the trails anyway and, of course, having some raki with the owner afterward.

The half week of no that followed felt like a shock to my system. After working so hard to open myself, what’s the value is closing to the world around?

I found it extremely difficult to say no to hospitality, and somewhat rude. After practicing this once or twice I realized that is those situations, yes is much more meaningful and warm than no.

I realized a lot in this contrast between yes and no. These reactions have a texture to them. Yes is something easy, lightweight, opening while no tends to be heavy and suffocating. As someone that says no a lot, this was something especially difficult for me to realize. This practice made me much more aware of those instances when my gut reaction is to just say no. When I notice myself saying no, I stopped to ask “why am I closing myself to these opportunities, and truth be told, I’m not sure I ever really had a good reason.”

I don’t think I’ll ever really be a yes woman, but I do think this practice helped me cultivate the intention to stop and consider a situation before I react one way or the other. I welcome the choice.