Have you ever thought about how you respond to requests? Do you remember the last time you said ‘no’ to something you were being asked to do or when pried about a personal matter? How many times have you ever said ‘no’ to people? In fact, among Koreans, the power of saying ‘no’ is constantly shaded by the greatness of agreeing, despite one’s reluctance to do so. These days, however, the importance of refusing when you really want to ‘no’, has been brought to light.
Koreans live in a society of high conformity. With that being said, it is not very likely someone will refuse a request, especially when it is from friends, family members or senior students that you feel duty bound to respect, as part of Asian culture. Moreover, people have to consider the inconvenience of turning one down, as it is usually very troublesome and time-consuming, making it easier to simply oblige. Yet recently, there has been a change in the wind, where some people are refusing to always accommodate requests. This budding social atmosphere has given the society a broader perspective, whereas now people are thinking twice before automatically saying ‘yes’. People who refuse inappropriate requests or questions are being called ‘Cider’, named after the popular soda drink for their “refreshing” approach. A very famous entertainer by the name of Kim Sook, for example, easily handled an awkward situation by simply saying ‘I’m hurt’ to stop other celebrities from asking overly personal questions and making insensitive judgments about her behavior and so forth. As a result, fans referred to her as their ‘girl crush’, because they agreed with her approach and more people wanted to follow her lead and start saying “no” more often. These individuals want to start a new page in the Korean book of culture for a new definition of what it means to be healthy in a traditionally conforming society.
This trend has also taken foot globally. The current list of best-selling books worldwide includes several selections that focus on the art of saying no. One such book, called ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a FxCk’, has been praised by various major media outlets such as CNN, the Times, the Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. Written by author Mark Manson, he insists people stop saying yes to everything and not worry about the consequences. This is one of many books on the subject readily available today. The Dankook Herald (DKH) would like to introduce to you some of the books available in Korea, and give you some tips we learned from them to use in your university life.
Book 1) 『How to react to an insolent person with a smile』
Summary: This book describes how to deal with rude people without being emotionally affected by their behavior. It contains some of the most effective ways that the author used to say 'no' and what she had learned in the process. To establish a culture of rejection, it is important to put the recommendations into practice.
Book 2) 『I decided to live as 'me'』
Summary: This book emphasizes the importance of living as 'I'. It tells the reader not to worry about explaining yourself to anyone else. You do not need their acceptance. The author says, don't be swayed by the passersby in life, instead just live your life on your own terms.
Book 3) 『Keep some distance』
Summary: This book encourages us to break out of toxic relationships before the situation becomes desperate and we find ourselves repeating past mistakes. The advice is short, easy and simple, but important nonetheless. The author emphasizes 'like your life and live for yourself. This means that sometimes we may need to put a little distance between ourselves and toxic people in our lives and that often means taking some bold actions. Keep away from hurtful and unnecessary people for your own well-being.
All of these books commonly argue the importance of saying no in a proper way, and why you should do it for your own sake.
A) “Let me see your notes and your assignments.”
- Mr. A in university
After each class, a senior student comes to me and says “I'm really sorry, but I didn't take notes very well in class. Is it cool if I see your notes?” I saw the upperclassman didn’t concentrate in every class, and it always annoys me because I feel like I have to say yes because he is a senior student.
Solution: How to flatly and gracefully refuse’
In real campus life in Korea, this happens a lot and it’s hard to reject the request because there is a hierarchy based on age in Korean Culture. Therefore it is important for this student to say no in a polite way while still firmly expressing ‘No’.
“What matters in human relationships is the distribution of time and energy based on importance. It is advisable to reject this request, but in an effort to be polite, that rejection can be too vague. This is because you don't want to do the favor, but you also do not want to jeopardize your current relationship. When this happens, it is advisable to find a way to refuse without offending the other side. The best way to do that is to say, “I'd like to do for you the favor, but I am uncomfortable sharing my work".
# (‘How to react to an insolent person with a smile’, ’Jung moon-jung’, 138-144p)
B) “Can you go to my class and check my attendance for me?”
- Ms. B in university
If a friend comes to me before class begins seeking a favor, most of the time it is related to attendance. "I'm really sorry but I can't go class today because of urgent business. Can you check attendance for me?" Still, I don't know why I answer ‘sure’ with trembling hands and a sense of irritation.
When receiving an unwelcomed request from your own friends, it is even harder to reject it, because you want to keep a peaceful relationship with your friends. However it is important to think about what your friendship is all about and if it is doing nothing but making you feel pressured into doing something you do not wish to do, then you need to reconsider the terms of your friendship.
"To those who are not kind to us, to those who don't respect us, we do not owe them any kindness. Try to be less servile to them, even if you can't change the situation. We need to express at minimum some resistance to preserve our own dignity. What is fatal to one's self-esteem is surrendering ourselves to injustice, rather than seeking justice."
# (“I decided to live as 'me'”, ’Kim su-hyun’, 15-17p)
C) If you are put into an uncomfortable position that you can’t refuse
- Ms. C in university
When I am really tired after class and from the project that my team has been working on, I desperately want to relax, but my teammates want to go for a drink and get wasted. Even though I really wanted to run home, someone says "Let's go drink together. I can buy the drinks. You can just say ‘thank you’ and follow me." So guess what? I always end up following them again.
This might seem very common to university students or even employees whenever they finish their work. Hoisik, the name of this drinking party after work, is a normal occurrence in Korean society. Despite the fact that you don’t want to go, you may be forced to join them through peer pressure.
“Human relationships become more entangled, the more they are intertwined. Most cases, involving deep and overweight relationships cause problems. It is important to keep some people or our homes, some distance away from our lives for ventilation.
# (" Keep some distance "," Sno Ayako, Kim Ok, the cat reading the book, 119-120p)
For someone who is always having difficulty saying no, for the nicest people who want to maintain peaceful relationships, even though saying yes might hurt you, this emerging social flow will finally challenge the people pleasing Korean culture and focus instead on insisting you say no when the request makes you unhappy or uncomfortable. This might be the best time for you to change your approach and begin to make yourself happy instead of everyone else.
Edward Ng, 윤진현 firstname.lastname@example.org