You're not the only one who might not want to face up to what's really at stake in questions of yea or nay. The guy that offers to drive you to work may just want to give you a ride and save on gas. But he may also want you to go on a date with him or get you to take his side in some kind of officewide political showdown. Hidden motivations are not like buried treasure. You don't need a map or a compass or a shovel or a degree in pirate studies. You just need to take a long, thorough look—and be willing to turn down something you want because it's just a cover for a host of things you don't.
6. Would I do this for myself?
I'm not Mahatma Gandhi or even Glinda the Good Witch, but I don't mind doing really difficult things for people I care about. I have used up all my precious frequent flier miles and flown myself out to Hawaii for 36 hours to be there for an old, scared friend, who was getting married. I have paid a babysitter to watch my kids so that I could go watch the children of a distraught, overcommitted widower neighbor, who needed a break. But at my lowest points—I mean mornings where bending down to put on fuzzy socks feels like a hard-core, hot-room yoga stretch session—would I even consider hiring a babysitter to give myself a night off or flying to Hawaii to repair myself on the sands of a glorious big-chain hotel? I think we all know the answer to this question—and it is not yes. And that is not acceptable.
7. What would my mother say if she were here?
Also known as: Are you being an idiot? For instance, this applies to when you say yes to the cigarette ("It's just one! I'm tipsy!") or to the date with Mr. Married with Kids ("He's so lonely...and sexy...and almost separated") or to the eating contest (which really happened, and I can't remember the logic behind it except that my husband dared me and that I felt some childish impulse to show off and try to out-scarf six grown men at a table overflowing with nachos, french fries and burgers). The one thing about your mother, father, Grandpa Joe or whoever it was that raised you is that they all know how to say no to the things that will end up hurting you or making you very, very ill. Furthermore, they know you. They'll be the first person to encourage you to say yes to those things that so effectively bring you significant happiness—like oatmeal for breakfast, even when you don't have time.
8. Is this an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie situation?
In this popular children's picture book, a mouse comes over, asks for a cookie, then a glass of milk to wash it down, then a mirror to examine his milk mustache and so on. This behavioral pattern, however, is based on real life. If you give a real mouse a cookie, that mouse will send out an all-points broadcast about the free dessert buffet over at your house, leading his cousins, aunts and uncles to come scurrying directly toward your kitchen. In effect, you said "sure!" to the mouse when he sniffed the air near your cookie. Let's learn from this metaphorical rodential mistake. If you consent to doing one thing for a particular person, will an avalanche of other requests follow?
9. Would this person say yes to me if it were the other way around?
Situations that apply to this query include party invitations, embarrassing tasks such as singing out loud or wearing a costume, and any situation requiring an emotional risk, like love or courage. If the answer to your question is yes, then the answer to the asker's question is yes. Because in such cases of double affirmatives, you're not doing anything for anyone, you're doing it with that person. Another word for this is friendship—the real kind.
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