On being ... asked

By Ingrid Sapona

I have two sisters and we live far apart from each other and from my mother. Mom and I live the closest – she’s about 100 miles away. We all see each other pretty regularly, but because of schedules and what have you, our visits tend to be one-on-one rather than as a group.

When my sister Regina told me she was planning to visit Mom for a long weekend over Easter, Mom suggested they drive up to visit me. I loved the idea and suggested they stay over and that we celebrate Easter here. They agreed and it was set.

In the meanwhile, I thought it would be fun if all of us got together and I mentioned to Regina that I’d ask my other sister (Sonia) if she might be able to join us to surprise Mom. (Sonia, I hope you’ll forgive me for using your name. I know you live in fear of being written about in On being … but I can’t tell this story without mentioning you and using your name seems better than referring to you as Sister #2.)

Regina thought the idea was crazy because Sonia works for an airline and her schedule is anything but nine-to-five. When weather and mechanical problems are factored in, it’s easy to understand how difficult it is for Sonia to make plans. As well, she often picks up additional trips, so she has little free time for social visits, especially ones that come up on short notice.

Though I realized Sonia might not be able to get the time off, I saw no harm in asking her. Sonia’s initial response was non-committal. To be honest, that’s pretty much what I expected -- but it was clear to me that she’d at least think about it and would probably see what she could do.

A few days later Regina called me and was quite excited. Sonia had e-mailed her to let her know she managed to re-arrange her schedule to come for Easter dinner. Naturally, I was pleased, but also a bit surprised by Regina’s utter amazement that Sonia would join us. When I commented on her reaction, Regina admitted that she wouldn’t have even asked Sonia, given how unlikely it seemed she’d be able to come.

Regina’s reaction got me thinking about why I wasn’t as surprised that Sonia went out of her way to make our get-together happen. Besides the fact that I saw little down-side to asking her, I guess I subconsciously thought Sonia might try especially hard to rearrange her schedule because she would appreciate that we asked her to join us.

You see, the past few years I’ve found that when someone goes out of their way to specifically ask me to do something or to join them in doing something, chances are good I’ll say yes. (I suppose I might feel different if I was one of the many who have a hard time saying no, but that’s usually not a problem for me.) Since realizing this about myself, I’ve tried to figure out why I’m so much more inclined to say yes in such circumstances -- and I’ve noticed that the same is often true of others.

Here’s what I’ve come up with about what I call: “the power of being personally asked or invited”. When you think about all the social, family, work, and community things we all participate in, many of them we do either because we think we should or simply out of habit. For example, we go to a networking event because we feel we “should go”, or we go to our aunt’s Labour Day barbeque simply because we always have.

While there’s nothing particularly wrong with doing things that fall into those categories (and doing them can certainly be fulfilling), our participation in them is often pretty impersonal. Though everyone might be genuinely glad to see you at the event, your lack of attendance wouldn’t necessarily be noticed (unless they were expecting you and you stood them up or something). And, of course, when people start to simply expect you to participate, you can end up feeling taken for granted and therefore resentful, which in not healthy.

So, when someone personally asks me to join them or do something with them, I take notice. First off, their asking shows they thought of me individually, and the fact that they took the time out of their busy schedule to do so is also important to me. And, assuming an underlying genuineness on their part, the fact that they risked being rejected or disappointed also is significant to me.

Though it’s a bit of a stretch to say being personally asked has some kind of magic power over me – it definitely never hurts and, when choosing how to spend my time, I’d certainly rather spend it with someone who’s made me feel wanted and welcome. My guess is that Sonia feels the same, which is why she went out of her way to join us on Easter.

Who knows, maybe after reading this Regina and others will be more inclined to reach out and extend personal invitations, especially if they realize that -- for some -- being asked makes all the difference.

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona


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