The ask

It’s all in the ask. Isn’t? When you have been asked to join some group, be part of some effort, let your name stand in nomination for some position on a non-profit Board or agency, what was the “magic bullet” that led you to yes? Granted you might have been ready to say yes from the outset, “what is taking them so long to ask me?” or you might be in a place where any additional responsibility is a no-starter. But in most of these interactions we are available to serve provided we receive the “right ask”, phrased in the right way. If so how is the request phrased that leads us to a yes?

This week I received several “asks” and the tone ranged from “heavy guilt” to inviting “you don’t have to go but I think you’ll enjoy this…” The former did not work, I was not moved by the “I hope you will go”, followed by a lengthy “I guess we’ll make due with whatever turn out we get”. That tone was about as morbid and sad as I have ever heard. Any possibility that I might entertain going, being part of that event, was gone, knowing my presence was all about fulfilling a desire to “fill seats”. I don’t think in 2018 it is an effective recruitment strategy to tell people that they should attend otherwise you will make the organizers sad. No mention of the fun to be had, no mention of the community to be experienced, no mention of the joy my presence will bring to invited guests, the sole rationale for asking me to come is guilt, is filling a hole, is obligation.

Guilt is a heavy instrument used for many generations to accomplish ends. It worked because society then required a kind of reciprocity, our elders did for others and thus felt they could ask in return. Should anyone deviate from this social convention there would be “hell to pay”, meaning if you didn’t succumb to my guilt I would not succumb to yours. People understood this arrangement and were loathe to test this theory’s penalty, everyone played along.

But the era of “me first” has shattered this convention, this social contract. Now people feel perfectly fine with responding to the ask with “but I am so busy” and “I can’t spread myself too thin”. Everyone now is into “self-care” and any thought of stretching one’s self to meet an obligation is largely a memory of the past. Good luck motivating anyone these days with guilt. And yet older adults somehow don’t notice this change or if they do it is part of a “what is the world coming to” motif.

I do think they have a point, that if everyone’s concern is primarily about themselves it will make community a challenging construct to assemble. If it truly is all about “me” how or where is the “us” to find form and shape?

It seems to me the sweet spot in this new world order is to offer up the possibility that the ask might lead to something new. I don’t ask anyone to do anything anymore based on obligation, nor do I ask with the promise of endless thanksgiving (we all have enough trophies, certificates and cards, don’t we?). Rather I tell folks I have observed that they seem passionate about a few things and this opportunity I am “asking” about offers up the possibility that something wonderful might come about. I ask them to consider this chance to make new life happen, for them, for others, for us.

That is the manner I like to be asked. Thus, that is the way I ask others.