Reality Check: The Virtue of Asking

Selflessness has genuine virtue. It’s wonderful to give of yourself for the benefit of others, with no expectation in return.

Now consider this: Is there virtue in asking for what you want? Or does the very idea seem selfish to you?

You may already know people who are experts at asking for and getting what they want. Some folks easily manipulate families, co-workers, or the “system” into providing benefits for them. From children who squeeze money out of their parents to co-workers who convince others to do their work, there’s no shortage of people who know how to ask, directly or indirectly, and have their wants fulfilled.

My question about the virtue of asking is not directed toward those people. I’m posing this question to folks who, for whatever reason, find it difficult or impossible to ask for what they want or need.

For example, Jolene is overwhelmed emotionally, but feels she can’t ask someone to listen. What’s her reluctance? “I can’t burden my friend with my worries; she has so many problems of her own.”

Janice has been acting as a caregiver and is worn to a frazzle, but doesn’t ask for help; she’s sure any request would be disregarded. According to her, “No one is going to help me; they all have so many other things to do.”

At work, June’s resentment simmers as she sees her co-worker getting perks simply because she had the audacity to ask for them! Why doesn’t June ask for better treatment? Because, “They should be able to see how hard I work; I’m not going to beg.”

The act of asking, or even the act of considering what to ask for, can be helpful in itself. It helps the asker define what it is that they really want.

In the example of Jolene, she wants a sympathetic ear. If her empathy prevents her from trying to get a hearing from someone whom she feels is already over-burdened, she could ask a friend or family member who is not so close to the situation. Counselors or groups can also be helpful listeners.

Janice, in her caregiving role, may need physical help with caregiving; however, even more than that, she may need to know that she is not alone. Recognizing that she needs to no longer feel isolated and solely responsible may help her to ask for what she really wants—companionship.

Often, however, the underlying want is for recognition. June’s perception of her workplace would change immediately if her supervisor said or did something that shows that she appreciates June’s effort. However, her supervisor seems oblivious.

Is it better for June to remain frustrated and resentful because her supervisor doesn’t recognize her obvious merit? Or is it better to recognize that her supervisor is not a benevolent mind-reader, and take action to reduce her resentment by asking for the recognition that she wants?

Is it more effective to ask, even if the result isn’t what you want? Or is it more effective to never ask at all?

Do you think there is virtue in asking for what you want? Or is it a vice?

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