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Scarvey column: Saying yes

I don’t generally expect romantic comedies to deliver substantial food for thought, so I was surprised by the movie “Yes Man” (out on DVD).
Jim Carrey’s character, Carl, has been disappointed in love and has shut himself off to the world. He doesn’t return phone calls and uses any excuse to turn down invitations. He coasts through life, numb.
He’s a no-sayer.
Dragged to a self-help seminar by a friend, he makes a covenant to say yes in hopes of jump starting a stalled life.
“Yes is a world and in this world of yes live … all worlds,” wrote the poet e.e. cummings.
Give a homeless man a ride to the boonies? Yes. Learn Korean? Yes. Work at the office on Saturday? Yes.
As if by magic, the world begins to open up to Carl. He gets promotions, a cool girlfriend. Sure, he goes overboard and has to relearn “no,” but the main message is still about being open to possibility.
I used to be good at saying yes ó most young people are.
Parachute out of an airplane? Sure. Semester in Italy, followed by a job there? Si. Wear a Russian ballerina costume to be an extra in a bad movie? Why not? Run a midnight 5K in 10-degree weather in the Smoky Mountains? Heck yeah!
I don’t regret doing any of those things.
Of course I also said yes to plenty of things that didn’t work out so well ó like agreeing to go to a dance with perhaps the only guy at Wake Forest who was a bona fide moonshiner. Suffice it to say that my response to that invitation should have been a “hell no.”
That ill-advised “yes” is just the tip of my iceberg of poor choices. Fortunately, I evolved and learned to consider the negative consequences that might accompany a thoughtless “yes.”
As we mature, “no” becomes a bigger part of our vocabulary. We become conscious of protecting things: our health, our safety, our dignity, even our peace of mind. The risk-taking part of our brains stops lighting up like Vegas slot machine at the suggestion of something new or fun, and the part responsible for balancing the checkbook and eating fiber stages a bloodless coup.But saying “no” can become too reflexive. No, I’m not trying a new vacation spot; I like the old one. No, I can’t audition for that play; what if I make a fool of myself?
In recent years, I’ve leaned toward “maybe,” which is pretty much “no” wearing a fancy hat. Perhaps I’m simply hedging against chaos or complications. Anne Morrow Lindburg wisely pointed out that it’s not just the trivial that clutters our lives but the important. We must choose judiciously among worthy things and learn to say no if we want a life that allows us time to breathe deeply and reflect.
And yet… a nagging voice in the shriveled-up risk-taking part of my brain says I need to be more open to “yes. ” Yes affirms life. Yes is optimistic.
“Saying yes begins things, said Stephen Colbert in a commencement speech a few years ago. “Saying yes is how things grow. Saying yes leads to knowledge. Yes is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say yes.”
Unless it’s a moonshiner asking you to a dance.
Note to parents: At least one scene in “Yes Man” is inappropriate for children.
Contact Katie Scarvey at kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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