I had gone a few weeks without my allowance and my mom knew it. My parents offered me a loonie every week back when the one dollar coins were brand new. There was one condition: I had to ask for it.
My mom wondered why I didn’t take advantage of this easy deal? My answer may have surprised her. I wanted the dollar, I just didn’t want to ask for it.
Perhaps I was nervous, afraid, didn’t know how, or didn’t think I deserved it. Whatever the reason, I felt like I could not ask for this freely-given gift. Like a child finding it impossible to say ‘sorry’ after an offence, it seemed impossible for me to ask for my allowance. So, in good parenting fashion, my parents waited until I learned to simply ask. They were teaching me a valuable lesson.
It was never about the loonie, it had everything to do with our relationship. In civic dialogue today, the ask has been too frequently replaced by the demand. Asking and demanding are born out of two very different places. When we ask for something, we assume relationship, we see the other person as valuable and worth our kindness, we seek to maintain connection, understanding, and nurture trust. Asking emerges in an environment of grace.
Conversely, the demand comes from a place of self-protective fear and anger. We believe we are owed something and the other person is simply the functionary of an impersonal transaction. We demand when we do not see the other as valuable or worth our appreciation. Entitled behaviours can become habits of the heart, and demands are often sure to follow.
When we refuse to demand, but instead find ways to ask for what we want or need, we change the culture of our community. Consider how we relate to Chestermere City Hall, or our kid’s school, for example. When we ask for a change, we acknowledge the mutual trust we seek to build in our community and open doors for fruitful dialogue and understanding. Things can get done, and the best ideas often emerge in this climate. However, when we demand what we deserve we erode trust and find ourselves in an embittered climate prone to bouts of hostility. Demanding our apparent justice may feel right, it may rally fellow demanders, but it seldom leads to the kind of lasting and fruitful change we really hope for. Demands shut down trust, asking opens doors.
Demands and strong words are important in an emergency. I would expect firefighters and police to make demands when necessary. However most of the conversations we will have in our neighbourhoods are not emergencies, they are moments where we can foster this valuable environment of grace. When a neighbour’s music is too loud or when their dog dug out your petunias, you have this potent option of asking them to make a change. Anger makes it so much easier to demand and demands, in turn, become a lubricant for our fear and anxieties. Maturity and wisdom show us a better way. When we choose to ask instead of demand we lay a foundation for trust, hope, love, and joy to emerge; lasting qualities that truly transform you and those around you. So, what do you think you could ask for, today?