I heard about retired Georgia legislator Able Mable Thomas for years, even before I moved to Atlanta a few years back. Actually, I was not convinced that there was a person with that name, but recently I had the honor of meeting her. I could not resist asking her about her name.
She earned the right to add “able “to her name because she decided very early in her life to be a problem solver and a person who said, “yes” to the invitation to serve and help others. She said, “I have lived my life looking for ways to say yes, instead of no to people because it is important to do all that you can to help people.” What a great philosophy for a person to hold and especially an elected official. The effort to practice this idea resulted in her gaining the reputation of being able because she tried to do all that she could to get things done when her assistance was sought. So, she finally added Able to her name.
I was delighted to hear this explanation because it stands clearly against what seems to be a culture of “no” instead of “yes” in our country. We seem to revel in refusal rather than in trying to find ways to assist one another. All of us complain bitterly about bureaucracy which we encounter on a daily basis. The type of gridlock that we have come to expect results from the prevailing widespread attitude of saying no and seeing all of the reasons that hinder an answer of yes, rather than a willingness to explore a path to saying yes or helping the person seeking assistance to receive whatever is being sought.
Since everything has a root system, where is the grounding for this widespread commitment to saying no? One of the most obvious places in many situations lies in the notion of scarcity. We have more faith in scarcity and lack than abundance and plenty. Thus, we have to be careful about generosity. If we give too much there will not be anything left, and we will suffer in some way. We see this attitude in our faith communities, nonprofit world, academic communities, in our holiday giveaways for the impoverished and in our everyday interactions with one another. Oftentimes, even when we allow ourselves to overcome our scarcity fear and act in a more generous fashion, it is dulled by the concern that we have given too much.
What would our communities be like if we could shift our energy toward the philosophy that Able Mable Thomas has which is that we should try to say “yes” as much as possible and trust that there is enough for all of us to have what we need? What if we could simply believe that the universe is abundant, and that our Creator has no limits? What if we could trust that our ability to care will not deplete us but will energize us? What if we could live a daily life committed to the idea that we would rather give than to receive? What if we could have a deep commitment to saying yes, as much as possible and no, as little as possible?
Of course, this way of life would require us to make internal shifts that help us to see everyone as a precious child of the Creator and to make sure that we work as diligently as we can to manage our personal woundedness so that it is not projected onto others. As always, we find that the remedy to so many of the maladies that face us as a people lies in part with each individual having the personal intention to do their part. Of course, there are times when we cannot give what is being asked, but if saying no resulted in more broken heartedness on our part as a collective society, all of us would be healthier.
Thank you, Able Mable Thomas, for being in the world this way and for quietly going about living out this commitment in ways that caused people to see you as able to get things done. May we all be a half shade braver in turning our intention toward saying “yes” as much as we possibly can each day to the opportunities that will energize our journeys and all of the Creator’s children as well.
The Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing is recognizing Able Mable Thomas as she shares in our philosophy of saying "yes" to enhance the lives of all people.