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Just Ask Around

by Martha Sterne

I come from a mixed family of bad askers and good askers, as well as some excellent askees (that is, those who are being asked) and some unskilled ones. I have personally moved from the category of lousy asker and terrible askee to being pretty good at both. The church actually helped me make the transition to a higher level of all aspects of asking.

In my younger days I would rather have gotten a root canal than ask anybody for something other than to pass the salt. My husband was even worse. Carroll actually would pre-emptively take on something he did not remotely know how to do or want to do in order to avoid the faintest possibility of having to ask somebody something. Ask Directions? Of course not. Not in a car, not in a store. Not on his life.

The most dire not-asking situation I remember in our early parenthood was when Carroll did not ask anybody what was involved in being a Cub Scout leader and agreed to do it just because nobody else raised their hand. He had never ever been a scout at any age or done anything with his hands or been an outdoors person.

On the one hand, his venture into scouting was pathetic. Here is what a scout is: “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheer­ful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.” After 44 years of close observation I can tell you that Carroll is all but two of these things almost every day. On the other hand, roping himself into being a scout leader just to avoid the anxiety of an unanswered ask? Well, that did more harm than good. He spent a school year of Wednesday nights in an unheated, dank church base­ment with listless volunteers and seven or eight restless little boys.

Should Carroll have asked himself whether he wanted to be a Cub Scout leader? Of course. Did he? No. To give the guy credit, he eventually became a gold-standard volunteer. I think he really learned from the scout debacle. Take it from Carroll: Don’t say yes to something you don’t have an interest in or a skill to share unless it is an urgent matter of life, death, or integrity.

The Rev. Martha Sterne is associate rector at Holy Innocents’ Epis­copal Church, Atlanta, Ga. She is author of two books: Earthly Good and Alive and Loose in the Ordinary. She and her husband, Carroll, have two grown children and two grandchildren.

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