No is a powerful word.
It stood alongside my grandfather and fought the fascists
as opportunistic nationalism swept through Europe.
It did not appease; it did not acquiesce.
No knew that the right answer is not always yes,
no matter how convinced and optimistic other people are.
No is defiant word.
Not afraid to make waves,
it teaches us to swim against the current to reach surer conclusions.
No knows that going with the flow exposes us to greater danger downstream,
obstacles, turbulence and passing predators,
where the banks become less secure
and our footing can be readily washed away
at the mercy of rapid fluctuations.
No is prepared to direct its energies upwards
towards broader channels and temperate pools.
No is often a kind word.
Gifted in an embrace, it holds the hand of those we hold dear
when it would be cruel to stand aside.
It does not idly scaremonger
but it alarms when there are real risks too important to ignore.
No has the strength and composure to resist initial resistance
and insist that facts should be checked,
that assertions should be challenged,
that consequences should be considered.
It does not deny choice
but it does not desert its duty of care.
No is not about scoring points.
It seeks to avoid “I told you so” so long as any friendship remains.
If it is not believed,
and it turns out our loved ones have been deceived,
it will at least make it easier to sleep while we grieve.
No can be a positive word.
It can look your partner in the eye and see a way forward through the tears.
It does not write off three hundred years
of give and take
in favour of giving up and taking umbrage.
Neither does it condemn irreconciled parties to a closed sentence –
rather, it invites a new conjunction: no, but...; no, and....
It is not the end of the story
but the turning point.
To turn to the question at hand, do we want to erect invisible barriers
that change partners into neighbours, neighbours into strangers,
strangers into rivals, rivals into enemies?
Do we want to abandon our place on the world stage
and leave our diminished commonwealth to be scavenged by big business?
I choose not to “make a difference” by withdrawal.
Subtraction is a negative operation.
No is a positive answer.