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The World’s Most Powerful Word

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Once upon a time, in 2003, there was a young man named Danny Wallace. Perhaps you have heard of him. Anyway, after his girlfriend broke up with him, he became reserved. He rarely went out. Instead of calling someone, he texted them, and instead of meeting with someone, he called them. He became comfortable with just loafing around the house and watching television.

But one day, taking the bus home from work, Danny sat next to a mysterious Asian man who changed his life. Danny told the man about his problem of how he never seemed to go out anymore. He asked what he could do.

And the mysterious man said, “Just say ‘yes’ more.”

It sounds simple. But it inspired Danny and gave him an idea. He decided to make a pact. From that moment forward, he decided to “yes” to every situation where he would have once said “no.” In a book called Yes Man which chronicled his ensuing adventures, Danny found love, flew to Singapore, Spain, and the Netherlands, went on a psychotropic drug trip, helped a Nigerian prince who was so nice to email him asking for money, and almost got a punch in the face when a strong man asked if he was looking at his girlfriend, among many other zany situations.

By the way, if you’re looking for a quick, fun read which can also inspire you, then pick up Yes Man. For those of you too lazy to read, it’s being released as a movie by the same name this month. It stars Jim Carrey, who happens to be pretty famous.

But not to digress any longer, reading Yes Man gave me an idea. Why don’t we say “yes” more often? I certainly would not say “yes” to everything. The psychotropic drug trip is out of the question. Yet it begs another question: how many wonderful experiences do we miss out on simply because we say “no” where we could have said “yes?”

What if I had said “yes” to go to that free concert with my friend where I might have had a good time, seen a new band, or even have meet that band? What if I had said “yes” to my dad when he said he would take me to London for three days while he was on a business trip? What if I had said “yes” more often the first semester of my freshman year of college, when I spent many a night alone in my room?

I am convinced that if each and every one of us said “yes” more often, we would have already come to realize something Danny Wallace discovered in his book. Life is short, and when we say "no," it is often to something that might be beneficial to us and others.

How many times are we offered the chance to donate to a charity, volunteer to help others out, or join a food pantry, etc.? Ninety percent of the time we say “no.” How many times do we make excuses to get us out of doing something good for others?

Typical excuses include: I don’t have enough money, I don’t have any change, I don’t have enough energy, I don’t have enough time, I’m a horrible person and don’t want to help others, ad infinitum. I mean, these are all perfectly normal excuses. But do you get the most rewarding opportunities out of life by sticking with what’s normal?

I would say never. I would also say the world would change considerably if people only committed to say “yes” more often where they would have once said “no.” Maybe that means something as simple as going out with our friends when we feel a little tired. Maybe that means eating breakfast with someone if they ask us even though we are not morning people. Maybe it means thinking about someone other than ourselves by meeting a need.

What makes us think we know what life is all about? When we say “no,” we assume the thing we are saying no to has no value for us.

I know it sounds crazy. I certainly don’t measure up to the bar I’ve just raised. But we have someone who has gone before us. Danny Wallace said “yes” to everything that came his way for six months. That is insane. He even followed advertising – and anyone who knows how many ads we are bombarded with today knows how crazy that is. Granted, the ad has to ask a specific, yes or no question, but that is still a lot of ads. Needless to say, he lost a lot of money. But it is also important to remember that he was a lot richer in experience, not to mention his book sales.

Danny Wallace and his book Yes Man helped me see just how often I said "no." Since then, I’ve been saying “yes” a lot more often. At the time I finished reading the book I was at the University of Iowa and really didn’t have any friends. I had only been there a month or so.

But it wasn’t the fact that it had only been a month which determined the amount of friends I had. It was the amount of times I said “no.” Since then, I’ve found myself being inspired to say “yes” more, and inevitably, I found myself with more friends.

I’m not saying “yes” is the almighty answer to every one of life’s problems. But the exciting part is that it could be. And I also understand that we have to say “no,” like a girl who has just been asked out on a date but is very much in love with her boyfriend. Yet in a way, her saying “no” in that situation is her saying “yes” to something better — her boyfriend.

The whole point is this. We could change the world if only everyone was willing to be changed. Saying “yes” gives power to whatever it is we say “yes” to. Saying “yes” is the willingness to be changed, and the willingness to change others.

So say “yes” to that job you’re not too sure about. Say “yes” to that person who wants to go on a date with you. Say “yes” to that flyer you were just handed telling you to join a cult. I mean, really, what’s the worse that could happen? Maybe you might find the thing you’ve always been looking for – and if not, it makes for an interesting story, and people like those. “Yes” is the catalyst of life’s great moments: accepting a marriage proposal, accepting Jesus, accepting love. “Yes” is the language of faith.

How can we ever expect to be free if we choose to live a restrained life? How can we ever help each other if we are afraid of the consequences of a single word? How is the world ever to be changed if we are content to sit at home watching TV?

So make a commitment to say “yes” more where you usually you would have said “no.” It might change your life. And your changed life will change others’ lives. I’m convinced “yes” is the world's most powerful word, and through it the world can be changed.

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About Kyle West

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