Yes Signs

Saying ‘Yes’ And The Call To Action

Several years ago, actor Jim Carey starred in a movie entitled “Yes Man.” The basic premise was that a person’s life would vastly improve if one just learned to say ‘yes’ to things. In other words, our first instinct is often ‘no.’

If education is about creating, utilizing and benefitting from opportunities, then consider how often we say ‘yes.’ Or rather, consider how often we say and hear the word ‘no.’ Saying the word ‘yes’ is often harder than it seems and quite often the opposite of what we naturally do.

Indeed, a survey conducted several years ago at UCLA reported that the average one-year-old child hears the word ‘no’ more than 400 times per day. It might seem crazy, but think about how often we tell a child ‘no’—sometimes repeatedly in several seconds. You could even argue that more active, creative children might hear the word ‘no’ far more often.

A natural part of growing up includes hearing all of the things we can’t or shouldn’t do. When we get to school and advance through educational systems, we tend to hear ‘no’ far more often than we hear ‘yes.’ Walk on to the campus of any public school in America and you are normally greeted by a sign or two that shares with you all of the things that you CANNOT do. Have you ever seen a sign welcoming learners and telling them what they CAN do?

What does this mean? Well, for amazing things to happen, as well as for opportunities and dreams to be realized, someone has to say ‘yes.’ The people in charge—teachers, administrators, educational leaders—have to learn to say ‘yes. In the world of regulations, bureaucracy, procedures, rules, doctrine, formats and systems, ‘no’ is the norm and ‘yes’ is the exception.

When I started teaching nearly 30 years ago, my first principal, the late Elizabeth Terronez, said something that resonates now more than ever. She told me, the youngest teacher on the staff at the time, that her job was to find a way to say ‘yes.’ She said that I would have great ideas, creative inspirations and big dreams for the learners, but that others and the system would attempt to tell me ‘no.’ She told me to remind her to find a way for her to say ‘yes.’ She, in turn, taught me that this was my job as a facilitator with learners. My job was to find a way for me to tell them ‘yes.’

Again and again, over all of these years in schools, I have been reminded daily about our natural or inherent vocabulary of ‘no’ and our avoidance or ignorance of the word ‘yes.’ Mrs. Terronez had a subtle brilliance to know that my career and life, as well as the careers and lives of my learners, would be fraught daily with the word ‘no’ and devoid of the word ‘yes.’ 

Mike Smith, a veteran motivational speaker for learners and educators, as well as the founder of Difference Makers, summarized it well for me 20 years ago. He often asks his audiences, “If it’s not illegal or immoral, why not give it a try?” This made an impression on me.  It made me check how often I said ‘no’ to the ideas of others or dismissed something as not possible vs. saying, “Yes…let’s do it.” Doesn’t that make sense? If it’s not illegal or immoral, why not try it? In other words, if someone is not going to get hurt or no damage will be done, why would we say ‘no’ instead of ‘yes?’

When the Jim Carey movie “Yes Man” came out, I worked at a school and we decided to kick off the school year with a challenge for all 500 learners. We promised them they could come up with the craziest or most creative ideas, as long as it was legal and moral, and we’d be committed to trying it. It became a school-wide mantra and theme for the year. We reminded them throughout the year that great experiences and success would only come from saying ‘yes.’ Opportunities, and potentially incredible experiences, will present themselves, but we have to be prepared to say ‘yes.’ We have to fight our natural and dominant urge to say ‘no.’

Is this relevant to education more than ever? I would say ‘YES.’ If we want to help foster creativity in learners, we have to learn to say ‘yes’ to their ideas and imagination. If we want to create more entrepreneurs, we will need to utter ‘yes’ far more often than ‘no’ to proposals, projects and products. If we want people to be engaged, passionate, participatory and connected, then ‘yes’ will have to be our mantra vs. the standard educational response of ‘no.’ If we want to teach learners how to use technology professionally, and hopefully to improve the world, then we will have to trust them. Trust will imply ‘yes’—while distrust will be connected to ‘no.’ (Insert your standard cell phone ban or policy here)

The new world of work in the 21st century is dependent on ideas, creativity and critical thinking. And these are only imagined once we, and our learners, believe. Belief will come from ‘YES.’ Our system, culture and evolutionized response systems will want to say ‘no.’ We will have to fight against those innate, conditioned and traditional responses in order to create a new paradigm of ‘YES.’ YES MAN—JUST SAY YES!!!

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