Yes is the new Maybe

April 28, 2014

A Post by Ben Gooley

Two team members arrived at our meeting with a pizza in each hand. I asked where the food came from and they explained that the event they’d just come from had unwisely catered based on the number of Facebook RSVPs.
“But, you know, ‘yes’ is the new ‘maybe’ and ‘maybe’ is the new ‘no’, so we all ate and there was still a whole pizza left over for each person who actually came.”

To what extent is this shift a reality, and what are we to make of the shift in meaning for the RSVP?

Late last year, Henry Alford mused on the issue in The New York Times: How the Internet has Changed the R.S.V.P., in a piece that was careful to scatter blame liberally but only lightly. Alford acknowledged the reality of the shift, and its unfortunate nature, but largely saw it as an inevitable consequence of the transition to the ease of the electronic medium for invitations.  Facebook itself has perhaps recognised the problem, now using ‘join’ for those wanting to indicate a positive response to an event invitation. Christians are far from immune from this societal drift. 

What might a Christian response be? Jesus told his disciples
“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matt 5:37 ESV). 
James expands slightly on this when he writes
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12 ESV)

That seems pretty straightforward, except that I suspect many of those who use ‘yes’ to mean ‘maybe’ and ‘maybe’ to mean ‘no’, do so in an attempt to be gracious to those inviting them.  Rather than appear negative by actively and publically declining an event without their reason being clear, indicating ‘maybe’ offers a way to try to show some level of support without committing to actually making the event.  This is a potentially fraught approach, but does offer some scope for giving a public response which can be followed up privately with more detail.

Similarly, joining a large, anonymous event without actually following through by attendance may not have particular negative relational consequences and is perhaps justifiable in certain contexts.  However, responding ‘yes’, or joining an event for which your response has relational and planning implications for the event organiser, but then not attending, seems to be a fundamental breach of trust.  This would appear to fall foul of the principle behind the texts above.

The Christian should be one whose word can be trusted, and whose pledge is solid.  Christians are those who have staked their life on the promises of the One they deem faithful and so godliness is reflected in their own faithfulness to their commitments.  While there will remain times when circumstances overtake a genuine commitment – illness and honest misadventure – the Christian showing the fruit of the Spirit will exhibit faithfulness among their works (Gal 5:22).

There may be legitimate contexts in which ‘maybe’ can be used in place of ‘decline’ and where ‘join’ can be used in place of ‘maybe’.  But the Christian ought to take care that their integrity is maintained.  Paul’s words to Titus still ring true:
“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:7-8 ESV).

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