To ask or not to ask


“Please sir, can I have more?”. That famous line from Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist was also mine at nine. Asking is such a difficult task. It’s an admission of weakness, that there is something you need but can’t achieve on your own. Asking is also a source of inconvenience for someone, at least that’s what I thought. A scary thought.

Circumstances had trained me to economise and make the most of what I had. Asking my mum for extra money was a big pain in the behind. I would get looks of pain and then cries of despair for the lack of money. In order not to inconvenience her, I’d solve my own problems, a simple equation really. The maths went like this: No lunch for 1 month = half a set of school uniform or a textbook or a school t- shirt or a school excursion or 3 exercise books + 1 pen. But nothing was a “need”. Everything was a “want” that I can learn to do without and time each purchase to the most urgent (ie. My school teachers would speak to my mum if I didn’t have them. That would be a very bad idea). If breathing was an inconvenience to my mum, I would resolve to breathe less. But of course I had to have a sensitive nose that goes running whenever the humidity is strong and I had to be in a country with 80% humidity all the time. All in all, I’d say I was a roaring existence despite wanting to be inconspicuous.

Fast forward 20 years and that is still a dilemma for me. It is like a shadow that followed me and had hard wired my brain. Mostly, I think of asking as a form of inconvenience to someone and a show of weakness or lack of brain power to “self-resolved”. If I don’t have to inconvenience someone, I’d keep my mouth shut. If I wanted a coke and everyone is having beer, I’ll have beer. A friend who knows me well will ask me again and all the attention on me will make it more glaring that I was different. I’m glad he asked though, because I would really rather coke than beer. Anyway, the real question is: when is it alright to ask and when is it not?

It is really hard to know. Asking is hard. It is also an opening to rejection. But recently, I’ve learnt to ask. Small things and with people I’m really comfortable with. It helps me to know that it’s not always an inconvenience. Sometimes they can take pleasure in giving and asking gives me the chance to give others the chance to give. Receiving can be nice too.

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