Yes and No

Ed Ram wrote an article for the BBC published online on 4th January this year entitled “The Man Who Can Only Yes and No“. It’s a report on his visit to see a guy called Graham Pawley.

Mr Pawley is a stroke victim who can understand everything that is said to him, but can only answer in certain ways. He can say “no”, “and” and “umm” (which means yes) and uses the phrase “and urr” to say that he wants you to guess an additional point.

It got me thinking about what my world would be like if I could only say yes and no.

One of my uncle’s most memorable pieces of advice is to always say “no” as it allows you to change your mind without guilt. It’s advice that I haven’t really taken to its limits. I’m comfortable with “no”. I’m also comfortable with “maybe”, “possibly”, “probably”… Truth is, I’m also pretty comfortable with “yes” as long as I’m comfortable with why, and my reasons why are because I know everything there is to know to make an informed decision or if I have a gut feeling that makes up the deficit.

Yes and no would take away any degree of ambiguity for me. I would make a definite decision and not have to worry about the things in the middle.

However, it’s not only the answers that struck me about Mr Pawley’s life. It’s the fact that he understands everything he’s being told and asked, everything that is said to him and everything he sees. And yet he is really limited in what he can do with that information to express his thoughts on it.

I might struggle to express myself sometimes but I have the tools to do it. I think about what I can say and whether I should. Mr Pawley has to think whether he can and how he can. I nearly found myself concluding that I was slightly jealous that Mr Pawley can avoid the ambiguity and realised the absurdity of that.

So the question is, if I couldn’t do “maybe” or any of those other things that say “I’m really not sure”, would I say “yes” more?

It was the peak of the summer and I thought I’d drown.
We couldn’t get close, all the kids were around,
But I could read you plain.
You want a different life.
Someday, hell, you might ruin mine.

I’ve lately come to wonder what it might feel like
If one last time we went and did this right
And somewhere no one possibly could know our names;
Somewhere no one bothers to remember a face.

Please say no.
Please say no.
Please say no.
Please say no.

Say anything you will, except how you’d have me still.
Say anything but no,
And I’d go, I’d go, I’d go.

Please Say No by Jimmy Eat World


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