“The Art of Asking”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

You’re an artist when you say you are.
You’re a good artist when you make somebody else feel something deep or unexpected. -Amanda Palmer

As a self described individualist taking pride in self-sufficiency, I understand the trepidation in asking anyone for help.

In 2017, I drove my flatbed truck down to Dallas, Oregon to witness the full totality of the solar Eclipse alone — or as alone as I could be.

Driving down there on surprisingly open highways, I thought “once again the media is hyping traffic problems too much, perhaps it scared people from going”.
The eclipse was a powerful experience where tens of thousands of people were all focusing on the same thing and experiencing uncommon collective awe in the magic of existence.
Afterwards I had nothing to do but head back home.

I use the lesser known navigation app “Waze” and thought I was being clever in choosing the Oregon backroads to avoid the congested interstate. It turns out “Jane” told everyone else the same thing.

As time went on and more people decided on heading back home, the winding single lane country roads — as if capillaries — were having serious thrombosis.
Stop and go traffic moved slowly for miles upon miles which made my leg sore considering my five-speed manual transmission. Eventually it  slowed to the point where we were stopped for fifteen minutes at a time before moving another twenty feet. Was there a crash?

I finally got out of my truck and jogged two miles to find a four car ferry shuffling people over a small stream. I asked the man how much does it cost?
$2
I don’t have cash. Do you take credit card?
No.
I had to turn around after investing hours on this path.
Anyone else would have asked the nearest person for two dollars, but not me. I had too much pride to beg. I walked back in poor mood with a perturbed countenance.

Someone I had chatted with earlier while walking to the front, rolled down their window and asked what I learned up ahead. I told them my situation and they raised a questioning eyebrow while saying “well, we’ll give you the $2!” I walked the rest of the way with a springy cheer that others could not fathom in this traffic jam.

How grateful I was. And a powerful lesson in realizing we live in an interconnected society where the smallest actions can be profoundly helpful.  Perhaps next time I will ask for the $2.

How many other things do I not ask for out of egoic stoicism?

* * *

Amanda Palmer has an excellent ted talk below (and new book called “Art of Asking”) which explores why many people are afraid to ask for things and how important it is for professional creatives to ask.

Asking for something exposes you to vulnerability and rejection. So we retreat into our lonely shells to avoid potential pain but end up moldering.

She presents a novel idea of working for free but asking for help. She encourages people to pirate her music but asks people to help her out. This has yielded one of the most successful music crowdfunding campaigns where she raised over ten times her original ask of $100,000.

It’s not about how to make people pay for art,
rather it’s about how to ask people to pay for art.

I want to add that there is a critical element which she doesn’t explicitly cover in her Ted talk…

Reciprocation.

When you ask for something, make sure you give something — even of simplest form. When Amanda was a street performer as a living statue, she would give a flower to anyone who put a tip in her hat.

Sometimes the reciprocation is simply authentic gratitude by telling them “Thank you so much! This helps me more than you might imagine…”

With gratitude, good fortune grows. People want to support those with real gratitude as opposed to the ungracious.

* * *

In Maria Popova’s article on BrainPickings, we are reminded that Henry David Thoreau — the man known for living alone in the wilderness in his hand-built cabin — was in fact supported by his mother and sister bringing pastries every week and how the land was given by a rich friend. Do these supporting people somehow reduce the legitimacy of Thoreau’s writings?

We romanticize struggle of the lone hard-scrabble person scratching their way to success or revelation; but it is the loving support we often fail to mention which paves the way for the greatest achievements in humanity. Behind all the heroes in history from Nikola Tesla to Picasso to Lincoln there are the unsung “Mother Teresas” quietly supporting them.

I reflect on how I claim victory for saving a nearby piece of nature from development. I was no “warrior” any more than another. I was just taking action as part of my flow. The supporting ancestors laid the foundation to where I am now. All the illuminating environmental media and books to inspire responsibility, how the canyon was previously saved from development decades ago, how my parents moved me to this area, how my neighbors gave me the letter from the city, how social media allowed me to get the word out, how my parents taught me to do graphic design, etc. etc. The people behind each of these elements are the ancestors who created divine circumstances which prompted me to take action. Most of them don’t realize they laid down the foundation for me to save the canyon and will never know they had a part. I then ask, who supported them? And who supported them? And who supported them? Who am I laying the subtle foundation of support for? This is the “butterfly effect” where we are all constantly creating realities with the simplest actions.
How my saying a simple word can change the course of reality in ways I don’t consciously realize.

When I asked people for their contact information to be part of a group,
when I asked an environmental lawyer to join us,
when I asked someone to file a freedom of information request,
when I asked the newspaper reporter to do a story,
These are all things where asking for people’s support creates the reality we want to live in.

When I read about Thoreau being supported by his mom bringing donuts, I am reminded of another donut story revealed by Jia Jiang’s TED talk “What I Learned From 100 Days of Rejection”.

Whereas Amanda‘s requests were reasonable. Jia’s were absurd. In his experiment to overcome fear of rejection, he went out of his way to be rejected.

The first time, he asked to borrow $100 from a stranger. When he was told no, he effectively ran away.

The next time he asked for a burger refill and when questioned he stayed engaged. But didn’t get a burger refill.

The third time he went to a donut shop asking for a donut shaped like the olympic symbol. It worked and the worker pieced together an interlaced five ring donut.

Besides overcoming his fear of rejection by asking for something, he also leaned to stay engaged and not “run away” when faced with repudiation. For example, asking why they said “no” to the original request usually revealed important things such as it was not him being weird, but rather they were physically unable to.

Or by mentioning their potential doubt before asking, you can overcome their resistance. “This might be weird but would you…”

I could fulfill my life dream by simply asking.

The people who change the world are the people who were met with the initial and often violent rejections. Like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or even Jesus Christ.

These people did not let rejection define them; they let their own reaction after rejection to define themselves. – Jia Jiang

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