Good Samaritan

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I had an opportunity to do something decent and I blew it. It happened after work as I was coming out of the subway. A man asked if I had an unlimited card and if I did, could i swipe him through.

For those who do not live in New York City, an “unlimited card” provides you with “unlimited” rides on the subway for the time period that you bought the card for. You can buy a one-day unlimited card, a month-long, and I think a year-long. The other alternative is a pay-as-you-go card. The only condition on the unlimited card is that you must wait 15 minutes between swipes whereas with the pay-as-you-go card you can swipe immediately.

So the man asked if I had an unlimited card and if I did could I swipe him through. I did but I told him that I did not and I did not swipe him through. Why? Why did I do that? I don’t know what ran through my head or why I reacted the way I did. Normally, I would have without any hesitation just swiped him through. I had an unlimited card and I was pretty much going to stay in for the night. There was no reason for me to tell him, No.

The only reason I have been able to think of is that I just wanted to hear myself say, No (for no other reason than to feed my ego). Dr. Linda Tillman of the Georgia Psychological Association has a brief but interesting piece on practicing “No.” She speaks how after the age of 2, we all grow up to be “people pleasers.” She says, we need to be able to effectively say, No. She even says “make it a project to say, No, to something every day.” I wonder how she would like her own advice if she were on the receiving end of that No?

The man who asked me if I could swipe him through could do nothing else but ask the next person coming out of the subway turnstiles. My saying No to him hurt no one but him (and now me because I realize the selfishness of my action). A friend and I were speaking about saying No at the work place. My friend was a proponent of it. I held that there were more diplomatic ways of doing it. I held that No was too absolute and finite and would lead to future problems. It is better to say, “Thank you. I will look into it (or something similiar depending on the situation)” than a flat out No. Our conversation was over a post on Penelope Trunk’s The Brazen Careerist. Unfortunately, I cannot find that post now. Sorry Penelope or Adrienne or whoever you are.

I believe No, in a work or social situation is too finite and absolute. It is bound to turn people off to you and your ideas (no matter how good either may seem). Also, if you are a manager of people, you don’t want to just shut them down. As someone who manages people, it is important for me that they understand that when I don’t support something they have suggested there is a reason and that reason is sound. It is also important to me that the people I manage understand that I am human and fallible. I am open to being refuted and convinced that my reasoning is open to examination and discussion. As a manager I want the best product possible. In my field that cannot be achieved in a bubble.

Honestly, had I a chance to do it over again, I wouldn’t say, No. I would make a greater effort to swipe him through. For no other reason than it being the right thing to do. I caught my lack of care immediately but did not venture to go back. I just followed the tide of people to the escalator.

I wonder how many of them had unlimited cards too?

3 responses

  1. Feel your inner ‘NO!’ « Information Obliteracy

    […] how busy he is.  I specifically wanted him to see the part about saying no. Last week he wrote a blog post about our […]

  2. Penelope Trunk

    @Ron – thanks for finding the page!

    @Good Samaratan Really, I think saying no at the ofice and saying no about swiping are totally different. What about that it’s illegal for that guy to ask you to swipe your card? Not that I’ve never swiped my own unlimited card for someone. I have. But it is illegal, and saying no to someone who is asking you to break the law seems really different than saying no to someone who is asking you to do BS stuff at work.


  3. Ron

    It was this one:

    I still believe there are times when it is better to say no.

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