I’m not one of life’s naysayers. This is funny, because I have a very negative attitude – or at least I often have a negative attitude – but something about the word “no” is difficult for me. This was pointed out to me in a recent discussion about Adam’s anarchic urge to suck on electric chords and put his mouth up to electric outlets. It is I understand not uncommon in babies. Also, I have a vague memory of how, at one point when I was a small kid, I liked to bite down on a penny because I sort of liked/didn’t like the coppery taste in my mouth – it was the way liking would go to disliking and back, it was an unbalanced taste – and I also liked the way it carried a sort of electric charge to the teeth that made me cringe a bit. However, I don’t think Adam is at that point yet. Still, here he is, our eleven month old, charging at electrical outlets, and what I do is I catch him and say, oh, you thought you were going to pull a fast one. And things like that. Instead of saying no, no, no!
What is it with no? I’d like to think that it is dialectically difficult, but maybe it is that I’m a natural enabler. A weak soul with a wobbly moral code.
A couple of days ago, we were up in Adam’s room and he spotted the electric outlet at the far end of the room and made a fast crawl in its direction, and I tried the no. No, Adam, I said. Unexpectedly, this caused Adam to nearly die with laughter. Nope, Adam, I said, and again the laugh – Adam has a very good laugh, an infectious laugh, he makes you want to make him laugh. He’d laugh, watching me, and then turn back to the electric outlet, and I’d say no, and he’d almost flip with how funny it was that Da was saying no.
Now, perhaps an eleven month old is not an oracle, but there was something here, something happening here, that was … well, a little unheimlich to yours truly. Could I be seen through so easily?
Jesus, of course, issues the classic judgment: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” Jesus was not generally close to the Stoics, but here I see their trace. This may be the most un-Socratic of his sayings. On the other hand (the enabler’s great phrase!) one can see the reason for it as a rule of prudence. And yet, the saying comes in the great chapter 5 of Matthew, the chapter of the beatitudes, where the yea and nay logic is, to say the least, strained. On the one hand, there the law and the prophets is to be fulfilled, in the person of the Christ, and on the other hand, various laws, including the most important, the law of talion – eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth – are negated. Jesus seems to duck and weave among the inevitable ironies of rules and language. As who does not? For I say unto you, pulling up my socks and getting on my heels, even yea and nay have their infinite varieties. The rest – that about which we cannot speak – is exactly what we all speak about.
Which may be why Adam found me so hilarious in the role of lawgiver. Wait until I tell him about the law and the prophets!