Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Nonassertive Legacy

I used the phrasing on a neighbor-friend once, several years ago.  I asked him, “Do you wanna hand me that plate?”

My neighbor-friend was amused by my question. Rightfully, he threw it back at me.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “Do I?”

His flippancy helped me acknowledge the absurdity of my phrasing.  After all, it was a pretty simple situation.  I wanted him to hand me “that” plate.  Given that rather simple need, I could have said, “Please hand me that plate.” And, because handing someone a plate is so-not-a-big-deal, he no doubt would have obliged.  Why did I choose such a nonassertive approach?  Why did I choose the type of phrasing that practically makes it sound like I’m doing him a favor by predicting his next, most favored move?  

The next time I visited my folks in Virginia, I noticed how frequently the phrasing was used.  I was making a casserole one night, and my mother asked:  “Do you wanna put minced onions in that?”

An hour or so later, she asked, “Do you wanna hand me the kleenex?”

And so it went.  I didn’t track all the times that I used the phrase, but I’m sure I was as guilty as Mom of placing every request in that “it’s really your call” context.   Who the hell are we kidding?  She wanted minced onion in the casserole (hence, the question as to whether I’d like to include that ingredient.)  She needed a Kleenex (hence, her curiosity as to whether I was interested in handing the box to her.) 

What’s with this consistent offering of bogus empowerment?
After my father died, I traveled to Virginia for the celebration of his life.  Mom’s younger brother and his wife came down from Boston, and after the church service, we were heading out to various cars that would eventually take us back to Mom’s for more interacting.  My uncle and I were standing on opposite sides of a car, and he asked me, over the hood, “Do you wanna hand me that folder?”

That’s when it really hit me that this was a family trait, and specifically, my mother’s family.

Having not grown up in that pre-war New England household, I can’t possibly do an armchair analysis that explains the passive nature of their asking for help.  It seems, though, that there was a bit of shyness there.  Hesitance.  Or, maybe just a tendency to pass off responsibility?

Do you wanna offer some opinions? 


Sioux said...

I have been known to do the same thing. I think it comes from the desire to not be pushy/obtrusive/bothersome.

I am sure your mother never said to you when you were a toddler, "Do you wanna take a nap?" as she was way too smart.

shelly said...

One thing I've learned as a mom, never ask just tell them.

Hugs and chocolate,

Andrea said...

Katie, I'm glad to see you back. This post touched a nerve because I often hear parents use the same fake deferment with their kids by adding "okay?" to the end of a sentence, as in: Settle down now, okay?
Does the child really get a vote when an adult wants a behavioral change? Not usually, so why the pretext of asking?
Your neighbor did you a favor by pointing out the problem with your phrasing. Good detective work in tracing it back to the place it started.

Nadine_Feldman said...

This post made me chuckle, because I hear this in my home. My husband says it all the time, and I like to have a little fun with it.

Deb Shucka said...

How weird and wonderful and intriguing. I think a character in a story needs to explore this a bit further. :-)

Anonymous said...

This phrase strikes me as a US one so I don't think I have used it except in its rightful place when I am genuinely asking the question but I am sure there are phrases over here that drive me mad such as the addition of "you know/like/right" out of context. My eldest son used to be fond of saying,
"Mum, right, I did this, right..." Right? Is it? I don't know.
Then in Gloucestershire, it is common to hear,
"I went to the shops, like, I bought some food, like,..." Like what? Do I? I could go on...I confess to finding the Gloucestershire quite charming as i lived there for three years, like. :-)