What is the Most Important Human Behavior?

August 7th, 2014 By Steven Knope, MD

Of all of the newsletters I’ve written over the past several years, the one that received the most positive responses was titled, The Most Important Word.

For those of you who have not read this piece, I argued that the most important word in the English language is not “love.” It is not “compassion,” “generosity” or “peace.” It is not “compromise.” If you look through the prism of survival, both as individuals and as a society, the most important word in the English language is the word “no.” If you have difficulty saying “no” to other people, by definition, you lack the healthy boundaries necessary to thrive in a competitive and dangerous world. This weakness makes you vulnerable to the whims, wishes and demands of others – be they friend or foe.

The most important wordInterestingly, the positive feedback that I received on this newsletter was unusual in that the praise crossed political, social and gender lines. Men and women found this newsletter equally empowering. Wives and mothers thanked me for reminding them to use the word “no” in their home and in the workplace. Many admitted that it was difficult for them to say “no.” However, others mentioned that they had learned this lesson on their own. One patient sent me a note saying that her husband, a very successful businessman and entrepreneur, has walked around for the past 20 years with a card in his wallet which reads, “You can always say ‘no.’” What this story tells me is that even strong and intelligent people need to sometimes remind themselves that it is okay to say “no.” Such is the magnitude of the societal pressures to conform to the wants and demands of other people.

Your Homework Over the Next Month

If you buy into the idea that the word “no” is the most important word in the English language, is there a corresponding behavior or skill set that is equally important to your existence as an individual? Ask yourself this question: What is the most important human behavior for your survival and that of our society?

If you read The Most Important Word, you will see that I asked an audience of doctors to tell me the most important word during a conference in which I was a guest speaker. I did not just give them the answer. I asked the question, then I made them struggle for a good 5 minutes until someone finally came up with the word “no.” The fact that most of them did not know the right answer exposed the reason that they were at this conference. The conference was meant to help doctors get out of self-destructive career paths and chart their own destiny in medicine. In this newsletter, I am going to take the same approach with you. I will leave you only with this question to ponder over the next month.

I encourage you to email me with your answers anytime. I will compile your answers anonymously and share them in the September newsletter. At that time, I will also give you my answer regarding the most important human behavior, along with the justification for my position. So that’s it! This is the newsletter for this month of August. I look forward to hearing from you.

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