The Gift Of Saying Yes

Katherine Fugate
3 min readMay 7, 2020
Shantum. Nina. Katherine.

I was in India, travelling all over the country. We were digging wells, riding elephants, studying Buddhism. Inside the rickety old bus, with ripped leather seats, no air conditioning, and red and yellow cloth curtains, I sat with our Indian guide, Shantum.

I offered Shantum a piece of spearmint gum. He said thank you immediately, took it, carefully opening the silver wrapper like Charlie Bucket opening a Wonka bar. Then, he put the gum in his mouth and chewed slowly, savoring the flavor within.

We started speaking about many things — arranged marriage, the caste system, why Buddha is always incarnated as a man — when I noticed a slight grimace on his face.

Shantum took the gum out and put it back into the silver wrapper and tucked it deep inside his brown robes, continuing the conversation. But, I had seen his expression, so asked, “Don’t you like gum?”

“I do not like spearmint,” he smiled. “Odd for an Indian not to like mint, but there you go.”

I asked him why then, did he take the gum?

He said — because you were offering me a gift. If I didn’t take the gum, I would rob you of the joy you felt by giving me a gift.

I was completely thrown. I would never take gum I didn’t like — but I had never seen it as robbing someone of their joy whenever I said no.

“You Americans are a very curious breed,” he said. “Often when I offer you something your first instinct is to say ‘no’ immediately. Even if you do want what I am offering, you always say ‘no’ first. As if you’ve been taught that being polite means saying ‘no’ to what you want. Have you wondered how it feels to the person who offered you a gift to be so quickly refused?”

I admitted I had not.

“Americans,” he continued to explain, “need to be asked three times before they will accept anything — a piece of gum, a compliment, even another piece of birthday cake — all get turned down.”

“Trust me,” he said, “I’ve counted. Three quick and rapid No! No! No!— before an American will say yes, thank you, I accept your gift.”

It’s been over 20 years since I went on pilgrimage to India. But I’ve thought about what Shantum said on that rickety old bus many, many times and he was right. It is three times.

No. No, thank you. No, I mean it. Okay, fine, if you insist.

He was also right about something else. Each “no” robs someone of the joy of giving a gift. The heart deflates, the hand falls. It becomes a plea.

So now, I will listen to a story I have already heard just to see your face light up as you tell it.

Now, I will listen to the young man in the long line at Trader Joe’s earnestly telling me health tips about a virus spreading throughout the land, even if it is information I already know, just to see his face flood with relief when he is done, believing he helped another person stay alive.

Now, I will listen to your sage advice, even if I already know I may not take it, just to feel the warmth of the bright searchlight of your being trying to light my way out of the Gothic pull of my own darkness.

Now, I will accept you telling me you love me, love the lumps and faultlines of my body, love the forever turbulent mixmaster of my heart.

Now, I will take the piece of gum offered the first time I am asked — even if I am not a fan of mint.



Katherine Fugate

Writer. Director. Activist. Mom. Creator/EP of "Army Wives." Films “Valentine’s Day”, “NYE.” Sports Illustrated's Best Journalism 2017.