It’s a lovely morning, cool, and quiet. My coffee is hot, and smooth, and somehow a much larger cup of coffee than I generally make – I’m sure that’s my doing, but it wasn’t quite a deliberate well-thought out thing. I used more water than usual, in some moment lost in thought when I might have benefited from paying more attention. 🙂

This morning I am thinking about the power of questions. All sorts of questions, really, but most particularly the sort of questions where I take a moment to ask (of myself, or of someone else) for something I want, or something I need – but in any case, the questions used to ask for something. Not the underhanded sort where a leading question is used to attempt to nudge someone into delivering on a need or desire – rather the honest, open, vulnerable simple questions that honor my heart, and respect the boundaries and resources of that other person. Straight up asking for what I want, no bullshit, no games, doesn’t feel very natural to me and it isn’t encouraged in all circumstances. There seem to be quite a few rules about asking for what we want, but they are rules we have built ourselves, and often on a fragile foundation of assumptions and expectations, criticism and judgement.

Always with the questions...

Always with the questions…

I am taking time to learn to ask the simple questions, whether it is ‘will you make me a latte?’ or ‘do you want to have sex with me?’ and to take care of me by avoiding the emotional trap of waiting around for needs to be met, or desires to be magically fulfilled by wondrous mind-reading beings who always know just what I want. Sometimes it is enough to make my needs – and my willingness – clear, sometimes it is important to be quite frank and direct (because assumptions suck, and cornering someone else into having to take action based on assumptions about what I may want isn’t as effective as using my words). I spent a lot of years living with people who invested heavily in coercive or manipulative use of language, and I didn’t realize how much of the simple power of directness I had lost over time. I do like language, and am prone to poetry and obscure vocabulary – and playful misuse of words – and those things can also be an impediment to clear communication. That’s a bigger deal when it comes time to meet real needs. It adds up to time to rethink how I communicate my needs, and how I ask for what I want in life.

My efforts to change how I ask for help, or ask for companionship, or ask for emotional support, or ask for a latte, are far more effective when they are specific, simple, and without pressure. The most effective requests are those when I am able to clearly state the outcome I am seeking, without putting pressure on an individual to provide fulfillment – and still make the request clear and uncomplicated. This does require a follow-up action from me, regardless of outcome; graciousness. Gracious and appreciative acceptance that honors and values the person coming through for me on my request if they say yes. Gracious acceptance and respect for boundaries and limitations that nurtures and supports the person who declines, simply and without bullshit or games. No tantrums. No manipulation. No ‘you owe me’ games. No ‘but I deserve this’ games. Getting the gentle dynamic of effective requests and gracious reception of answers quite the way feels best to me is a balance of emotional self-sufficiency (most things I might ask of someone are things I could legitimately do for myself, much of the time, or do without) and considerate openness (understanding that anything someone takes time to do for me subtracts from the time they have to do for themselves). There’s another balancing act involved here, too: reciprocity. If we’re hanging out at your place, for example, and I ask you to make me a latte (knowing how awesomely well you make them, perhaps), then the principle of reciprocity as a relationship value requires that when we are hanging out at my place I will be prepared – and willing – to reciprocate and make you a cup of tea when you ask (or politely offer you a beverage). It’s not a firmly required exchange, and it’s not a debt or obligation…it’s something more than that; a shared experience of openness, an exchange of emotional support, a connection, a willingness to be vulnerable enough to ask, and strong enough to answer honestly. There’s a lot of power to connect people in asking for what we want in simple and honest terms, and being open to hear the answer without being invested in a specific outcome. I’m finding it very freeing…sometimes frustrating. (Learning to comfortably decline when asked, when that is what best meets my own needs, is a challenging related bit of life’s curriculum.)

Feeling my way in the dark on something that has direct effect on the shared experience with others can feel stressful. It’s worth getting past that to be more aware of myself, my core needs, and what’s really going on with me – the process of asking for something I want forces me to be more mindful of what it is I do want, and why, and whether it really has potential to meet my needs over time. Straight up asking tends to find me looking at the content of the question more closely; is the request truly worthy? If I am going to be vulnerable, and ask in the first place, it makes sense that the question be refined and clarified in my own thinking before it becomes words at all – why waste time on confusion, if that can be avoided? Do I really want a latte? Or do I want to hold hands and yearn for that brief moment of contact between fingertips as I accept the warm mug? A latte doesn’t actually meet the need for hand holding, does it? It matters to ask the most relevant question. So much to learn.

Children seem to get asking questions, more or less, but their undeveloped narcissistic and demanding approach is a poor fit for adulthood; they lack awareness that others have no obligation to serve. It’s a free will thing. 🙂 Still, not a bad start for asking…and I have been studying how it’s done by these wee experts. “Can I have a glass of water, please?” from a being too short to reach the faucet seems simple enough. As an adult, I’d likely want to be more specific and personal, “Would you get me a glass of water?” – acknowledging I could reasonably do it for myself. How often have I heard myself say, to a partner in motion, “Are you going to the kitchen?” – when what I truly intend is to ask, at some point, for a glass of water? Where did I learn to be vague, leading, and manipulative? I guess that question isn’t really important to answer. The more useful question is “what can I do to be more clear, more direct, and more specific, without conveying a sense of obligation, sounding demanding, or being misleading?”

I am a work in progress, and life’s curriculum develops in a very personal way. I’m already more about questions than answers… Perhaps it is time to also become quite skilled at asking for things, not merely about them. How much harder is it for loved ones to provide support, encouragement, or to meet needs, if they have to continuously guess what those might be? It was something my traveling partner said to me on a recent visit that got my attention on this. “Relax. If I need something I’ll ask for it.” He said, after several attempts on my part to offer hospitality of a variety of sorts. We had a much better time hanging out when I stopped trying so hard to guess what he might need to offer it to him before he asked. It got me thinking about that whole thing, though, and I recognize the potential pitfall of setting up an expectation within my own thinking that others would be behaving similarly, trying always to anticipate my needs – that’s not only unrealistic, it doesn’t respect them as individuals with needs of their own, and the power to ask.

Today is a good day to be open, vulnerable, and self-aware – and a good day to ask for what I need. Today is a good day to be gracious, whether supported or not, and understand that we are each having our own experience, with our own needs, our own desires, and our own finite resources. It’s a good day for kindness, and learning to say ‘no’ when I must, and to do so gently and without harm. It’s a good day to be appreciative when someone says ‘yes’, and not take ‘no’ personally. Will it change the world?