Afraid to Ask? Learn How to Give and Take.
“Why are you even friends with him?” Daniel asked, as we jogged along Kamehameha Highway on Oahu’s north shore. “He seems like such a mooch. Has he asked you for money yet?”
I smiled, a little annoyed, but also amused at my brother’s mistrust of my friend Ryan. This wasn’t the first nor last time my strong friendship would be doubted and opposed by my family.
“No, he hasn’t asked me for money!” I laughed, “and I wouldn’t give it to him if he did!”
We were on the way back to the rental house we were staying at for a family vacation. The surf was either too big or too small or too sideways, so we let out our frustration on the pavement as we ran up to Turtle Bay and back.
“He teaches me things,” I explained, “he speaks his truth and puts me in a position where I am forced to speak my own truth. It isn’t always comfortable or simple, but facing those challenges is how I grow.”
Daniel, Matt, and I had been staying in a different rental before our parents got there and Ryan had asked me if he could crash there, too. I’d put the question to Daniel and Matt, who had accepted. But, Daniel had misgivings about Ryan’s way of life: He would often receive cars or living arrangements from friends, benefitting off the hard work of those living in the ‘real world.’
It wasn’t easy to put the question to Daniel - the room was small, Daniel and I were sharing a bed, and Ryan was my friend, not his. But, it was honestly OK with me. Was it honestly OK with Daniel? Or did he accept because he wanted to see himself as a generous person? His opinions of Ryan, revealed again on this run, showed me it may have been the latter.
“And what does he do for you?” Daniel asked, “What do you get from him?”
Why frame a friendship in terms of exchange? Can support or love be measured and traded, moment for moment, with a debtor and creditor owing each other? True gifts come without strings, expectations or obligations. They are given and the gifter receives his or her own reward through the act of giving.
But, to my brother’s point, was I truly giving without obligation or expectation? I did feel a little put out at times by Ryan - he was unafraid to ask questions that I would have kept to myself for fear of appearing impolite. One of the first conflicts he’d had with my family was when he asked to come to Thanksgiving dinner, which I agreed to put to my family. I respected him for this and as I ran with my brother, an idea came to mind.
“Ryan is leaving for 10 days and he’s got that car which he won’t be using. I think I’ll ask him if I can use the car when he’s gone.” I felt good about that. In this way, I met Ryan’s honest request with my own. I truly wanted to use the car. But, it was not his car, he was borrowing it. So, like me, he would be put in an uncomfortable position, between myself, a friend, and the car owner, another friend who did not know me. The owner would have to trust Ryan, and Ryan would have to trust me.
I made the request of Ryan, and perhaps it was my own projection, but I thought I felt some surprise as he realized what was being asked. All the same, he made the request to his friend, who accepted, and I ended up having a vehicle for the next week, which was very helpful for getting to the farm I’d work at after my family left.
I’m very familiar with the feeling of holding my tongue. At my last corporate job with Google, I’d been afraid to speak out in large meetings, for fear of being ridiculed or dismissed. Or later, sharing a dormitory room with a backpacker, I’d be afraid to ask to turn off the lights when I wanted to sleep. Another time, I recall my mom and I discussing where she could stay on a visit to California. She had a friend with a home, but she refused to ask out of fear of being rude.
Is it ever rude to ask a question? I think not, though popular culture imprints the opposite. For example, the clueless man asking an overweight woman if she’s pregnant - he receives a sharp rebuke by her friend and is cast in shame, while the questioned woman is brought to tears. Lesson: Better not to ask in the first place.
But is he truly wrong to ask? His intentions were not malicious. On the other-hand, the woman’s own projected self-judgement has been poisonous and painful to her. And her friend, though intending to help, has only caused a contraction in the man and validated the shame that her friend feels.
We cannot force someone else to be honest or speak their truth. If we make a request, yes it may be accepted out of obligation. However, when we withhold from asking we have taken away the possibility that a gift may be given out of joy or rejected out of truth. We have assumed that it would be given out of obligation or rejected with shame. In declining to ask, we have actually put ourselves and created this exact world - one of reluctant compliance and defacing shame.
This self-created micro-hell is only half the co-created reality. When we decide another’s truth for them by acting on unspoken assumptions, we remove the opportunity for the other to realize the joys of their generosity! If my fear of ‘putting someone out’ prevents me from ever asking for help, not only am I denying myself needed assistance and doing myself a disservice, but I’m also removing the opportunity for someone else to give to me, which is a wonderful reward!
We make so many false assumptions around how someone will feel when we ask them a question. A popular example is around asking our employer for a raise. We may be unhappy and frustrated with how our work is valued, yet afraid to request additional compensation. This puts us into a demotivated state, where we don’t do our best work. In the end, both the employer and employee suffer: the employee does not work with joy and passion and the employer does not receive quality work. It is much healthier to do away with the assumptions. Be clear about your feelings and approach the problem cooperatively, rather than confrontorily. For most workers, they’re on the same side as their employers and both benefit together.
Equally as important as making a request is denying a request. Whether someone is asking for your time, assistance, a place to stay, a ride, or a dollar, if you are not in a position to give graciously and with good intentions, it is better to deny the request, than give with resentment.
Back in Hawaii, Ryan came over to the rental house my family was in to pick up his toiletries he’d left in the previous rental. He sat down and we talked, but I could feel my mom becoming anxious. She interrupted our conversation, and in my opinion at the time, rudely asked him to leave, because she wanted time with just our family.
In reflection, I appreciate that my mom was able to speak her truth, denying Ryan’s tacit request to share space with us. It was clear my mom was uncomfortable with his presence, and rather than masking her feelings, she gave them voice and brought the situation into harmony with her inner world.
It is not simple to deny a request. It might be a loved one asking his or her partner to clean up the dishes after a delicious meal. But, if the partner feels resentful or taken for granted, it is much better to deny the request than to clean with anger and frustration emanating into greasy pots and pans. Out of such a refusal, the dishes may not be cleaned, but there will be a step taken towards each person seeing themselves more clearly. Given enough of these processes, it’s possible a couple will realize they are not meant for each other, or, in their vulnerable honesty, realize how compatible they are.
By honoring our inner truth, we open ourselves to deeper connection with those around us.In these connections, there is power. Whether it turns out to be a car, a raise, or a new partner, our courage to ask and to refuse are elemental in manifesting a life that is balanced between our inner and outer worlds.
I met Kula's Coby and Ananda on a surf trip to Troncones. They held my first cacao ceremony, but not my last. I returned to my job in San Francisco, but later after quitting, I'd meet back up with them in Peru for more ceremony. I help the Kula market their life-changing trainings and retreats - it's a perfect way to promote openness in the world and follow my internal compass towards the nomadic life.