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
, 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?” Virginia
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
for the celebration of his
life. Mom’s younger brother and his wife
came down from Virginia ,
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
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?