Who said, "no!"
May 16, 2008 9:02 AM   Subscribe

What are some relatively obscure examples of someone who said no to something?

For instance, someone who was offered an impressive job or unique opportunity but turned it down because of having to give up a part of themselves.
posted by wordsmith to Human Relations (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Albert Einstein famously turned down the offer of the first Presidency of Israel, but not for that reason.
posted by absalom at 9:08 AM on May 16, 2008

There was a recent AskMe about non-sellouts.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:11 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you looking for historical examples, or will fictional examples also serve?

e.g. Juliet turning down Paris, Cordelia refusing to suck up to Lear for 1/3 of the kingdom, etc.

Or, a little lower-brow: everyone and their mother refusing the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes & Nero Wolfe constantly refusing to investigate lucrative cases that don't intrigue them, etc.

Or, in another medium: the Chris O'Donnell character (Charlie Simms) refusing to rat out his classmates in Scent of a Woman, every character on ER ever (from Mark Greene to Abby) turning down plush sinecures at fancy private hospitals to stay at County, etc.
posted by prefpara at 9:43 AM on May 16, 2008

Robert E. Lee was invited to command the Union Army, but refused out of loyalty to his home state of Virginia.
posted by naoko at 9:43 AM on May 16, 2008

Grigory Perelman turned down the equivalent of the nobel prize for mathematics out of disdain for the mathematical community.
posted by Kevbo947 at 9:52 AM on May 16, 2008

One could, depending on the literary source and your interpretation of Christian/Jewish mythology, suggest that Lucifer (Satan/Devil etc) was the first to do this.

In the same mythology, Jesus was offered pretty much the whole enchilada by the aforementioned personage and chose not to. In Buddhist myth, Siddharta pretty much had the same experience (only with the demon Mara) on the cusp of becoming the Buddha.

Not sure if that was exactly what you were looking for.
posted by elendil71 at 9:53 AM on May 16, 2008

the ones that come to mind aren't obscure examples, by any means. in fact, the most obvious example is Cincinnatus , the original prototype of the man who refuses great power due to moral conviction or a sense of duty.

George Washington is sometimes called the American Cincinnatus because he refused the title (or rather, crown) of King of the United States when some shortly after the American Revolution wanted to install a hereditary monarch like the one they had just fought to overthrow in England.

Dr. Seuss there's also a famous anecdote about Dr. Seuss that might fit the bill:

Mr. Cheyette recalls that he once tried to talk Mr. Geisel into working with a television advertiser who offered a lot of money for the right to use a character in a holiday message. Mr. Geisel didn't want to do it.

Mr. Cheyette pointed out that since the advertisement was less than a hundred words, Mr. Geisel could go into The Guinness Book of World Records as "the writer who was paid the most money per word."

Mr. Geisel thought about it and said, "I'd rather go into The Guinness Book of Records as the writer who refused the most money per word."
See also this NYTimes story.
posted by buka at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

General Smedley Butler said no to the planned military coup of the US by Prescott Bush & Co.

(More obscure than it should be?)
posted by coffeefilter at 10:00 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Humphrey Lyttelton is one of many to have turned down a British knighthood/other "honour".
posted by ceri richard at 10:17 AM on May 16, 2008

Billy Beane turned down the position of General Manager for the Red Sox, preferring to stay with the A's (and who wouldn't?).
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:19 AM on May 16, 2008

Jean-Paul Sartre and Le Duc Tho both turned down Nobel Prizes
posted by TedW at 10:20 AM on May 16, 2008

The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart
posted by TedW at 10:25 AM on May 16, 2008

After D-Day, Adolph Hitler ordered Dietrich von Choltitz, the commander of German forces in the city, to burn Paris to the ground before letting it fall into Allied hands. He refused, and offered no resistance to the Allies as they re-took the city, sparing it from heavy damage.
posted by thewittyname at 11:28 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Edward VIII abdicated the throne.
posted by amyms at 12:16 PM on May 16, 2008

Let's not forget Bartleby the Scrivener!
posted by Mmothra at 12:36 PM on May 16, 2008

For many years, Mario Cuomo , the Governor of NY was the most popular potential presidential candidate for the democratic party. People begged him to run. Of course, only he knows why, but he said no more than once. He has also apparently said no to a nomination to the Supreme Court.

From the Wiki link...

Cuomo gave the keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, and media reports speculated during several presidential election campaigns that he might run for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States, but Cuomo always declined to run. Perhaps the closest he came to running was in 1992, when he kept an airplane waiting on the tarmac as he decided whether to fly to New Hampshire to enter that state's primary. [1] He was also spoken of as a candidate for nomination to the United States Supreme Court, but when President Bill Clinton was considering nominees during his first term to replace the retiring Byron White, Cuomo stated he was not interested in the office.
posted by R. Mutt at 1:17 PM on May 16, 2008

I also remember an interview with Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, in which he said that had he been given advance notice of winning the Nobel Prize, he would have said no. I can't find a link for it, but I remember him saying that they just announced it, and that it complicated everything.
posted by R. Mutt at 1:26 PM on May 16, 2008

Muhammad Ali said no to the draft board.

King Edward VIII said no to the Church of England.

Nancy Reagan just said no to drugs.
posted by gum at 2:03 PM on May 16, 2008

General Smedley Butler said no to the planned military coup of the US by Prescott Bush & Co.

Prescott Bush & Co. implies P. Bush was the leader of the Business Plot, which you would love to be true, but fact is that the allegations of his participation in such an alleged coup attempt only surfaced in 2007, and still don't hold their ground (just like the coup itself looks like a fabrication).
posted by falameufilho at 2:39 PM on May 16, 2008

Eric Liddell: "During the summer of 1924, the Olympics were hosted by the city of Paris. Liddell was a committed Christian and refused to race on Sunday, with the consequence that he was forced to withdraw from the 100 metres race, his best event. "
posted by iviken at 3:33 PM on May 16, 2008

Let's not forget Bartleby the Scrivener!

I would prefer not to...

Also, in 1999, Aung San Suu Kyi was toiling under house arrest in Burma when her husband Michael Aris, living in Oxford, England, was diagnosed with cancer. The junta denied his passport application to visit her, while at the same time offering to let her leave house arrest (and the country) to go visit him. Aris and Suu Kyi both knew that if she left Burma she would never be allowed back in again: the biggest symbol of peace, democracy, and non-violent resistance would be out of the junta's hair for good, and therefore the offer of release had nothing to do with her husband or their family but was merely another ploy for political gain. She refused to leave, which is why she is still under house arrest to this day (she's the only Nobel Peace Prize currently imprisoned, having spent 18 of the past 20 years locked up). It's also why she never got to see her husband again. He died a short time later.
posted by roombythelake at 4:30 PM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

In the same vein as Sherlock Holmes up there, it seems like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe is forever rejecting cases or refusing to accept payment for cases that don't meet his ethical standards. I went on a Chandler binge last year, and I couldn't figure out how he always had money for bribes and booze when he never seemed to take anyone's money.
posted by brookedel at 4:43 PM on May 16, 2008

The only one I can think of not already listed is Sinead O'Connor who refused a Grammy award.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 7:50 PM on May 16, 2008

I'm probably pulling this from another post on AskMeFi or MeFi that I cannot find in the search engine. But, there was a famous occurrence at one of the proto-Nazi meetings Hitler attended before he attained power. Some guy loudly protested the ideas Hitler expressed at the meeting, but Hitler basically shouted him down. No one knows who the guy was.
posted by Brian James at 9:49 AM on May 17, 2008

Wikipedia casts doubt on the story, but supposedly Joseph Meister, who was the first person in history to be cured of rabies when he was vaccinated by Louis Pasteur, committed suicide rather than allow invading Nazis to enter Pasteur's grave. He was a caretaker at the Pasteur Institute.
posted by TedW at 2:27 PM on May 17, 2008

« Older Regaining Access to a Fairly Old Encrypted PDF?   |   Where can I buy Philips SBCH5385 headphones? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.