The Big Issue – Saying ‘Yes’

I’m often surprised by how small things can be those making the greatest difference to our lives.

A few days ago I saw Jim Carrey’s latest film, ‘Yes Man’ while on a trip to Oxford in the UK. The main character is a compulsive ‘No-man’. He says ‘No’ to invitations, to loan applications (he works in a bank which I found ironically topical) and he says ‘No’ to beggars on the street. After a self-help seminar he agrees to become a ‘Yes-man’ and agree to everything instead. Once he starts saying ‘Yes’, his life, of course, turns around and he begins enjoying himself again.

It wasn’t an original or memorable film and I was disturbed in one scene by the behaviour towards a muslim woman. Putting that to one side, I found the central premise of saying ‘YES’ to life very appealing.

The following day I passed a homeless guy selling ‘The Big Issue’. For those who’ve not heard of it, I’ll digress for a moment:

“The Big Issue was set up in 1991 to provide homeless and vulnerably housed people with the opportunity to earn a legitimate income. … Big Issue vendors buy the magazine for £0.70 and sell it for £1.50, keeping the £0.80 per copy.”

Not only is it a very worthy idea, the magazine itself is well written and entertaining. What’s not to like about it?

As I was saying, I passed this guy standing on the cold Oxford street holding copies of the magazine.

“Big Issue, sir?” he asked.

I turned my head to look him in the eye (I like to show respect to everyone) and heard an automatic response leave my lips.

“No, thank you,” and I walked on, quickening my step a little.

A few metres on I stopped in my tracks, Jim Carrey’s face flashing in front of me. Normally I’d be very worried about that but it reminded me that every request I’m offered is a chance to say ‘Yes’. Agreeing to buy the magazine might appear to be only a small opportunity but I can’t see into the future, so I really have no way of knowing. What might appear to be small now may turn into something bigger tomorrow.

I turned round and walked back to the homeless guy who was now hopping from one foot to the other in an attempt to keep warm.

“I changed my mind,” I said, handing over a £2.00 coin, not wanting any change.

“Thank you!” said the young man, clearly delighted. I felt he really meant it.“That’s only the second I’ve sold all day. Many thanks.”

It was a small amount of money for me and I have no idea what that gesture meant for this fellow human being. I don’t know who he was, what he used that money for or why he was on the street. I don’t even know if I made any difference at all to his life.

What I do know is that I felt great.  Not about the money or the magazine, but about the shift from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’. My initial ‘No’ was a closing down, a retreat from another human being. It was a rejection of an honest request and I was a little smaller as a result of that ‘No’, and so was the homeless guy.

When I turned it into ‘Yes’ I opened up, I both gave and received. I made a brief connection with another soul and I made a difference. The size of the difference is unimportant because I was a little bigger as a result of that ‘Yes’ … and so was the homeless guy.

Jim – you are always welcome to remind me to say ‘Yes’ to life. Just next time could you whisper in my ear? Your face flashing in front of me is a bit scary!

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