Why Indians Should Learn To Say No

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

No problem, we will get the modifications done by the end of the week.

Said the tech lead to his business counterpart who wears a clock which shows the time exactly 11 hours behind the time in his watch. With drops of sweat on his head he noticed the eyeballing of virtually everyone in the inexplicably brightly lit, but crazily crammed meeting rooms. And there was just single thought is his head — “New requirements, why? There is Diwali next week and all I wanted was peacefully watching firecrackers from my balcony at my hometown.” His was wearing his frustration on his face and reflecting resentment in his walk to his tiny white cubicle.

We Indians never like say no. Even though we know that the incoming conditions are outright ridiculous and impractical, we will still say “No Problem”. All we seek is approval and try to become an obedient “worker” in the eyes of our superior, while gulping down our own train of thoughts of countless missed dinners and missed lunches in lieu of some crazy deadlines. We all have been there.

Or worse, we even compromise. “Chala do na bhai”, “Jugaad karlo”.

Why can’t we just say no, is it so hard?

Since we started recognize alphabets, we have been told, not to say not. It is very hard.

Indian culture is classified as a high-context society, one which relies a lot on non-verbal and implicit ques. We have hierarchy everywhere, from families to workplace. And one thing we have been taught over and over again — “Your superior is always correct”. Debating with the authority is highly frowned upon. One who raises concerns, no matter how polite, is looked like a confrontational and disobedient member. Age and seniority take preference over reasoning in a hierarchical society like ours. Agreeing and making a compromise for compliance is seen as a mutual benefit at a small cost, the hierarchy remains happy and the juniors continue to be favored which often translates to direct material benefits such as promotions.

The life of the average Indian is full of hacks and compromises. Something is broken, instead of raising a voice we invent creative ways — “Jugaad” to work around them. We compromise on a lot of things, cost, quality, timing, morals etc., for maintaining that harmony with everyone around us. While this is an essential value for survival of India as a country with deeply contrasting cultures, at an individual level, it’s a curse.

The impact of not saying no

Our work life balance is non-existent. As per a report by National Sample Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2017, Indians already have one of the highest working hours in the world and are also very prone to clock in extra office-hours after work. This is direct result of our inability of telling no and forcing us to commit to unreasonable deadlines. With extra work comes in extra pressure and abysmally low job satisfaction. Sometimes this has financial repercussions as well. This is directly related to our culture — long working hours and workaholism have positive connotations such as dedication, commitment and perseverance.

Outside office spaces this attitude of compromise and status quo is even prevalent. A 2018 report by the World Bank, describes most Indian roads as “narrow and congested with poor surface quality”. One of the factors that contribute to this poor maintenance of the roads is lack of voice by the public about the condition of their immediate neighborhoods.

The attitude of trying to agree to everything extends in our personal lives as well. Students take up courses their elders seem fit and not by their passion. Data compiled in a journal published by Reproductive Health Matters, 40% Marriages happen between unwilling partners (which then becomes another great game of compromises) and with another 25% reporting to unwillingly agree to sexual advances by their partner.

We should speak up

It’s important to take note of our own wants and capabilities to refuse things in a while. Let’s have a change in the train of thoughts. But make sure to be logical and as polite as possible.

Computer Whisperer. Open-source contributor. Find me at https://amitosh.in/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store