"I actually think the reminder that you can always just say no can be pretty effective."
I know, I'd been thinking about that myself, just last Saturday, the day before hearing that Nancy Reagan had died. I was blogging about a NYT column telling about women leaving the field of science because they'd received email expressing desire for an intimate relationship and couldn't figure out what to do about it.
These women had never, as far as I could tell, just said no — I'm not interested. The NYT author wrote of the women deciding "[p]erhaps... to ignore the first email," then getting further efforts at closeness from the man, after which "any objection on her part... would seem heartless." I said: "Why isn't it also 'heartless' to deprive this man of the basic information that he is not experiencing a successful response to his attempt to go on a date?" The column author spins out a nightmare: "On and on it goes, and slowly she realizes that he’s not going to stop because he doesn’t have to." I said: "Why is this smart woman so absurdly slow?"
There are, I'm afraid, a lot of people out there who need to be bonked over the head on a regular basis with the stunningly simple advice, "Just say no." It sounds crushingly stupid, but an awful lot of people — including very smart people — become stupid in social situations. These days, there's an effort to pick up the slack left by those who've forgotten the magic of "no," and they'd like to institute a system in which the failure to say "yes" counts as a "no" (and a silent sexual encounter becomes rape).
We wouldn't need such an oppressive, twisted regime if people kept in the front of their head the go-to advice: Just say no.
Nancy was, of course, speaking specifically about drugs...
... and the message looked really ridiculous to those who were already into drugs. I remember some comedian — perhaps Bob Goldthwait — doing a routine about the idea of Keith Richards attempting the "just say no" solution to his all-out addiction. But Nancy was — like most First Ladies — talking to children, and "no" is most effective when you say it early on — to drugs, to sex, to whatever it is you have a right to decline.
Which reminds me of my old motto. Nancy had hers. I have mine: Nothing is a high standard.
I couldn't find the old Keith Richards joke, so here's William S. Burroughs, "Just Say No To Drug Hysteria":