In 2013 I have taught a Public Speaking course at the Teacher Education College in Southern Algeria. The class was an opportunity for me to help learners be outspoken and use communicative skills for social change. One of the topics that I discussed with my students was the importance of saying “no”. At that time, I was inciting them to say no to tyranny and oppression and also to learn to say no when they are not ready to commit. Often, out of shyness or complacency, we say yes to everything and then under-deliver what we promised.
After that, I left to finish my doctorate at Syracuse University in the US. Towards the end of my stay, I was approached by one of my bright students telling me how transformative “learning to say no" was to her. She said: "I am going to say no to an opportunity that was waiting for me and my team". I said: "Wait!” I changed my mind. After a lot of pondering I discovered that I was wrong. I told her: “Say yes!” Because I came to realize we live in a world with shrinking opportunities. After her apparent confusion, she said: "Sounds great! And by the way, we are organizing a WikiStage event in Djelfa and we would love if you can come and talk". I immediately said “no”. I could see clearly that she was very confused because she was certain I was going to walk the talk and say “yes”. She told me: “First you teach us to say no, now you are telling me to say yes and when I ask you, you say no.” Out of embarrassment and in an effort to be the role model I should be, I said yes and embroiled myself into podium panic!
It took me a long time to choose my title. I wanted a positive topic to navigate the ocean of despair and negativity that I think prevails among Algerian youth scene after the frustrations of the Arab awakening. I wanted a topic that speaks to the audience that shares with me the same impoverished background. The talk location was just 50 km from my birthplace. I was born and raised in a region in Algeria with a lot of poverty, despair, school drop-outs, and deteriorating infrastructure. I wanted to share my success story with one idea that seemed to be the basis for all my breakthroughs.
After a lot of hesitation, I had the “eureka” moment! “The Power of Saying Yes” is a big idea. Fast-forward to the day of the presentation, I talked about how saying yes to helping people, saying yes to opportunities and engagement boomeranged in my life and enriched my CV without initially intending it, diversified my background and led me to where I am today - an education specialist and project manager in leading international institutes. My main cry was: “Say YES, do good things, they will come back and haunt you in a positive way.” When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, he did not think of creating a company. I watched him say in one of the interviews: "I was convinced that someone will someday build something like Facebook for the world, but not me". He thought that it would be a company that already had thousands of engineers. He spoke about all the social pressures that he had. But saying yes led him to be a billionaire, and most importantly a game-changer in the 21st century. I concluded my talk by emphasizing the importance of relationships and how treating people with respect and kindness will also boomerang in a very serendipitous way. The last slide was a quote that really changed my life. Mark Twain once said: "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe Harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
When young activists do this, they’ll have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Only the sky will be the limit!