The Power in YES

The Power in YES

Philippians 4:8 New International Version (NIV): “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

There is untold power in the most lovely word, “Yes.” It affirms, deepens, encourages, rewards, inspires and just plain feels good. Yes, yes and yes! The word almost seems to contain an inherent internal smile. Y?s. We were lovingly created to blossom in response to this little string of letters, “y-e-s.”

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon offers a cautionary reminder that there is a time to everything under heaven. Knowing the right time to say “yes” draws upon each person’s spiritual resources, especially for someone whose life has not been blessed with deep and full well of “yes” experiences. It’s hard to affirm others, or even ourselves, when that well is dry. In those cases, it is more likely that we will be miserly with affirmations and draw instead upon two other powerful words, “no” and “but,” that may have been visited upon us more often than “yes.”

When improvisors perform a story onstage, the most cohesive element of their performance is the word “yes,” generally followed by the word “and.” They find something in their partner’s performance to affirm, so they join the existing story and then build upon it. The story grows into a collaborative and affirming dance, creating a satisfying wave of understanding and appreciation among audience members. In the absence of affirmation, two actors create their own disjointed stories, without the delicious synergy of union.

When we work together in service of students, the institution and the community, “yes” is where we join each other before going on a journey together. Only after that union occurs can our work become innovative in meaning, service and impact. “Yes” aligns our hearts and promises a collaborative path forward.

“Yes” followed by “but,” however, delivers a neutralizing blow: yes + but = no. Instead of yes-butting, try hanging out with yes awhile to affirm common territory, followed by introducing new information with “and.” Critical thinking is not compromised by this strategy. Instead it is potentiated by the union of kindred spirits.

Does this mean that “yes” is always the best response? No! Cultural standards sometimes shortchange us of the opportunity to set boundaries by using a denial response. That opposite well needs resources, too, especially for those who have primarily been raised in submissive roles.

What is helpful to restore a previously empty well of “yes” resources?

  • Modeling is a powerful learning tool, as is consciousness. Notice others who are affirmative, spend more time with them and notice even your own efforts.
  • Set a goal to offer a growing number of affirmations each day, even if it feels clumsy at the outset. Keep a “yes” tally sheet as a concrete record of your growing affirmation skills.
  • Cultivate allies who are willing to keep each other accountable for expanding “yes” repertoires.
  • Create artwork associated with the word “yes.”
  • Collect and play affirmative music.

In other words, steep yourself in whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.


Cindy Carter, Ph.D.

associate provost, institutional effectiveness and degree completion and accreditation liaison officer