Inside “Yes” is “No”

We like to be able to say “yes,” whether it’s to a person, an organization, an activity, an object, or whatever. But, human experience works out such that inside any “yes” is also a “no.”

AltWall, black, graffiti and sign by Jon Tyson

A bias toward “yes” isn’t inherently bad. It keeps us moving forward. Where we start running into trouble is when we neglect the fact that “yes” also costs us something.

This cost is sometimes described as an “opportunity cost.” Often, the concept is illustrated with economic examples. For instance, any dollar spent on a purchase is, by definition, not saved, given away, or spent on some other purchase.

Because dollars are interchangeable, this “opportunity cost” might not mean too much. But, the reality gains teeth when we also come up against the fact that the number of dollars anyone has access to is limited. Eventually, resources run out, even despite occasional efforts simply to go on pursuing more (see, e.g., Collins, How the Mighty Fall, 45–64).

The same principle applies with time and commitments. We can only fit a finite number of things into our attention at any moment. We can only pursue a finite number of actions in a given space of time.

And whatever we decide to put our attention on or to put into action then, by definition, squeezes out of that time and attention whatever else would otherwise have been there. So, for instance, time and attention spent studying can’t then also be spent in other ways.

But, investing time and attention in activities like study definitely can let us engage better with life as a result. To cite an often and variously quoted illustration:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!” (Covey, Effective People, 299)

Like anything, time spent “sharpening the saw” in study has its own opportunity cost that we need to be mindful of. But, it also pays dividends in making us sharper and better prepared as we continue moving forward serving and living life in biblical studies.

What encourages you to devote yourself to “sharpening the saw”?