This I Believe: Saying no offers freedom

Posted: Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Jessica ParisThis I Believe

I believe in just saying no. One of my earliest applications of this principle was when my granddaddy gave me a silver dollar for my sixth birthday.

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As big as my palm and strangely weighty, the coin bore the profile of a stern Eisenhower. At that time, 1975, a dollar was 20 times my weekly allowance and would buy me four Milky Way bars, or six packs of bubble gum, or 20 Charm pops. But it was clear this dollar was not to be spent. It had risen above the pettiness of commerce. This was more like an artifact of history or a piece of public art. So despite my temptations, I said no to Mr. Feeney's candy counter and saved the silver dollar, displaying it on my dresser along with other cherished objects.

This is my first memory of saying no to the razzle-dazzle, lose-10-pounds-in-10-days, buy-now-pay-later, you-deserve-a-break-today, just-do-it world we live in. It's not just the media I'm referring to; it's what my mother, my friends, even my inner voice tell me - go ahead, take a break, indulge, splurge. But I have a skepticism about pleasure that guides me: I don't believe we satiate our desire by feeding it any more than we do by depriving it. And sometimes deprivation leads to greater satisfaction than indulgence.

Take Thanksgiving. Eating triple portions of turkey and tubers doesn't make me feel gloriously super-satiated or thankful. Overcome by gravy, I feel gross. However, in spring I do a fast during which I listen to my stomach's knock knock knocking for two days. How nutty, how chewy is that simple cup of brown rice that breaks my fast.

Here are some of the ways my philosophy manifests itself: I say no to sugar before lunch, no to high heels, no to disposable diapers, no to cell phones, no to artificial sweetener, no to most drinks I'm offered, no to carrying a balance on my credit card.

Sometimes saying no is easier than other times - I don't have to say no to thong underwear, it says no to me.

I know my philosophy is a two-sided coin. Every no is a yes to something else. Not owning a car for my first 33 years is why I have skied to work on the Iditarod trail. It's why I have hitchhiked to Talkeetna and Homer. Maybe it was the money I didn't spend on a car that allowed me to go India where I rode trains, oxcarts, auto-rickshaws, camels, and an elephant.

I'm no puritan or prude, martyr or miser. But in a world of such bounty, such opportunity, such Krispy Kremes, choices have to be made. I believe that saying no to some of life's shimmering pleasures buys me a moment of peace and a small sovereign patch where I can pause and ask what it is my heart truly desires. No is not deprivation, it's deliberation. No is not loss, it's freedom.

And my silver dollar? My older brother James stole it to buy Tootsie Rolls and little plastic army men. He believes in saying yes.

This I Believe: A forum for everyday Americans from all walks of life to share values that guide their lives.

KTOO invites readers to send essays of up to 500 words in length. KTOO will broadcast chosen essays weekly. Contact Cheryl Levitt by e-mail at or by calling 586-1670 during business hours.

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