A Truthful No
Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )
Our word - and the promises we make - are not something to take lightly. In this week's portion (30:3) we learn about how important it is not to say we'll do something unless we really mean it. We should say 'yes' when we mean yes, and 'no' when we mean no.
In our story, a kid discovers that sometimes it's being nicer to people to tell them a truthful 'no' than a not truthful 'yes.'
YES AND NO
Jonathan was relaxing on his bed with his Gameboy when he heard his mom's voice calling him from the bottom of the stairway.
"Jonathan! Jon, do you hear me?"
Jonathan pressed 'pause,' dragged himself off his bed and stuck his head out of the doorway to his room.
"Yeah, Mom. What's up?"
"I need some more formula for the baby. Could you run over to the One-Stop on your bike and pick some up for me? She's going to be up from her nap in a little while, and she's going to be hungry!"
That was the last thing Jon felt like doing right then, but he didn't feel like getting into an argument with his mother either.
"Um, sure Mom, no problem. Just give me five to finish up my game, okay?"
"Well, all right, but just five minutes, okay? I left money on the table. I'm going to rest a bit until she wakes up."
With that, Jonathan, happy to have avoided a scene, returned to his former position and lost himself in his Gameboy once again.
After about an hour, Jonathan was startled out of his latest game by the sound of shrieking coming from the room next door. Uh-oh, he thought to himself. The baby must have taken a real short nap.
His mom came into the room holding a weeping, hysterical baby. "Jonathan, I can't find the formula you went out to get. Where did you leave it?"
"Sorry, Ma. I didn't go yet. I don't really want to go."
"If you didn't want to go, why did you tell me you would do it? I was counting on you."
"I know, Ma. I didn't want you to feel bad if I said no, so I said yes."
"But Jonathan, I feel a lot worse now when I have nothing to give the baby! Why did you say yes when you really meant no? Now you have no choice. Run to the store and get the formula, before I take away your Gameboy for the week."
The next day, at school...
"Hey, Larry, guess what?"
"Hey, Jon, what's up?"
"I got the new, updated version of Bats and Bones for two players. Why don't you come on over to my house this afternoon and we'll play? We can use my dad's big computer screen. I'm sure he'll let!"
"Cool, Jon. Thanks for the invite. What time?"
"Come about five, okay?"
"Okay. You got it."
Jonathan rushed home from school that day to get everything ready for his friend. He called his dad at work and asked him for permission to use his screen, and his dad agreed. Jon carefully disconnected the screen and attached it to his own computer, but it took a lot longer and was more complicated than he thought, and he had to disturb his dad a few times to ask him some questions. When he finally got that done, he realized his room was a mess, and he ran around stuffing things under his bed and throwing stuff away so it would at least look decent. Then he couldn't find the disc with the game! He ran all over the house looking for it, and he finally found it behind the couch pillows in the den, where he'd carelessly thrown it the last time he used it. Finally, he realized there was nothing good to eat in the house, so he jumped on his bike and made it to the One-Stop in no time flat.
At 4:59, he threw himself down on the couch and waited for his friend to arrive, huffing, puffing, and exhausted from all his efforts. At 5:20, he started to get a little worried, wondering when Larry would show up. 6:00 - still no Larry. At 6:30 he tried to call Larry's house, but there was no answer.
He must've had to stop somewhere on the way here and he got held up, thought Larry. At 7:00 he gave up, and went into the kitchen to eat his supper, which had long gone cold.
Next day, Jonathan went looking for Larry first thing. "Where were you yesterday?" he almost shouted. "I waited for you the whole afternoon! I called your house and there was no answer!"
Larry was calm. "I know. We went to my grandmother's house yesterday. We'd been planning it for weeks. Besides, I already have Bats and Bones at home."
Jonathan was confused. "But if you already knew you were going somewhere, why did you agree to come over to my house? Why did you say yes when you really meant no?"
He was shocked to hear his mother's words coming right out of his own mouth!
"Um I don't know ... you looked like you really wanted me to come and it just seemed kinda easier to agree than going through the whole, 'Well, why not,' conversation and making you disappointed or whatever. Usually whenever people ask me to do things, I just say yes, and either I go or I don't. What difference does it make anyway?"
Jonathan was silent. All he could think about was the disappointed look on his mother's face and how he let her down.
"Your words do make a difference," Jonathan said slowly.
Larry just shrugged and walked away, but Jonathan took the lesson home with him and let it stay for a long time. From then on, everyone knew that Jonathan's word was as good as gold. By him, yes meant yes and no meant no. Period.
Q. How did Jonathan feel at first about saying he would do something and then not doing it?
A. He felt it was okay because it made people feel better than saying 'no' to them.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He saw how it would be better to say 'no' than to say 'yes' but not mean it.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Jonathan learned from what happened?
A. He had told himself that he didn't have to stick to doing what he said he would and that it was better to agree to do something and not really mean it than to get someone upset by saying 'no'. But after he saw how he had messed up his mom and how much it hurt when his friend did it to him, he realized that a person's word should be kept and therefore he would only say he'd do something if he meant it.
Q. Why do you think it hurts people more when we say 'yes' and don't do it than if we say 'no' in the first place?
A. While no one likes having his requests refused, it is preferable to facing the bigger let down of counting on someone for something and then having it not happen.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What, if anything, is ethically wrong with not keeping one's word?
A. Besides the harm it can cause others who make decisions based upon what one has told them, it undermines the stability of the world as people cease to trust each other and can no longer interact in good faith.
Q. Are there any situations when it is right to tell people what they want to hear, even if it isn't what you truly mean?
A. Certain times, such as when we give someone a compliment to lift their spirits, there is room to exaggerate for the sake of kindness. However, in general, people ultimately feel better when we are straight with them, even if they seem disappointed at first.