The Big Ask

"You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need"
—The Rolling Stones

I've written previously about our search for a piece of land and the financial challenges therewith. While we are prepared to attempt to purchase land and build a house without outside financial support, the prospect of doing so is daunting to say the least. I decided last fall that I would approach a person who might be able to help make our dream come true, but I was paralyzed by the thought of asking for financial help.

(Earlier this week, thinking about writing this post, the phrase "the big ask" came to mind. When that phrase emerged I didn't realize that The Big Ask turns out to be A Thing: specifically, the thing that fundraisers do when they are going after a large pledge from a donor.)

I'm usually petrified at the idea of asking anyone for anything, let alone asking for money. Asking for things isn't in my nature. I usually think of this reluctance as,

"I don't need help."

But often what I'm really feeling is,

"I don't deserve help."

Putting myself out there and asking for help is something I do so seldom that I'm generally awful at doing it. So before asking this person for assistance, I knew I needed some guidance on how to actually ask for help. I turned to a very good friend of mine whom I felt would have insight and could guide me in this endeavor. We talked about the best way to approach the person, how to make our plan clear, my expectations for the outcome, and how I would feel if the person declined my request. I'm sure that had I not had this talk with my friend I never would have been able to do the Big Ask.

Over the past 30 years I have asked family members for financial assistance to purchase land a couple of times and was turned down in each case. It is evident to me now that I wasn't nearly ready to follow through, should I receive such a boon. I know it is no small thing to buy land and to build one's own home: I have several friends who have labored for decades to build their homesteads. But it's harder than ever to make that happen here in the San Juans, or most anywhere in the more desirable areas of the U.S. (My husband does occasionally remind me of the affordability of land in Alabama...) And, as I'm about to turn 56 years old in a few weeks, I was really hitting the point of "if not now, when?"

The Big Things in our lives usually require the help of others, so I decided to wrap up my pride/insecurity for a moment and lay out my case in the most honest way I could, write that letter, and send it out like a prayer on the wind.

In my letter I said that I had no attachment to the outcome—which wasn't 100% true—but I think I really was in a place where I was willing to accept that if this entreaty did not succeed, I was willing to accept that my dream simply was not to be, at least in its current form.

I had also prepared something on the order of a Plan, or at least more so than back when all I thought about was possibly getting my hands on some cash. I spent a few days on the County website researching the permitting process and getting a feel for what is involved in this bureaucratic dance. I have friends in the building industry who can be tapped for help and advice. I have considered our options for financing at various stages of the process of land acquisition, infrastructure development, and building, depending upon how much assistance we could muster.

So I began to see that the Big Ask is not really about just wanting something, but about stating clearly and unambiguously what we need, and what we plan on doing with what we ask for.

Put yourself in the picture.

I put myself in the picture. I imagined myself succeeding, and what that success would look like. I also imagined myself not succeeding, and how I would feel about that. I think knowing how to see myself when I don't succeed is the place where I feel I have the most to learn.

"Thinking of one's self as a failure is not the same as failing."
—Seth Godin, On feeling like a failure.

Enter Bernie Sanders

When I was thinking about writing this post, I registered a connection between the Big Ask in my personal life and the bigger picture of the political life of our country today. I realized this connection while reading Paul Krugman's complaint that change is incremental, that Bernie Sanders' supporters are "idealistic," and that Bernie is a "purist" who won't be able to get anything done even if he's elected. Krugman states that in the "harsh realities" of politics, idealism must bow to "hard thinking about means and ends." Krugman finishes with:

"Don’t let idealism veer into destructive self-indulgence."

Oh, really? Is that what idealism is?

It's clear that Americans have largely given up asking for the system to work for us, and have mostly accepted that our idealism is mere self-indulgence, and that our dreams and hungers are unrealistic goals in the grown-up world of modern politics.

But what if we really could make the Big Ask of our political system? To state, clearly and unequivocally, what we need, and how we want to be treated? It's no secret that the political system in the U.S. (the whole world, really) is controlled by very powerful individuals and organizations whose interests are not in any way aligned with those of ordinary people. But there are few of them, and many of us.

Bernie Sanders is talking about a revolution, but not one with the sort of bloodshed and terror that we have learned about in history books. Bernie's message is strong, insistent, but really quite simple and civil: we need—and deserve—fairness, justice, and a chance to share in the wealth of our nation.

Even if Bernie never captures the nomination (which wouldn't be a surprise, given the lock powerful interests have on the Democratic Party), millions of Americans have awakened to the realization that we do, in fact, seem to have the power to make the Big Ask. I think our power as members of civil society are being reawakened, and I'm damn excited to see it happen.

Oh and by the way, this also happens to be the Year of the Fire Monkey...

Shall we be like Fire Monkeys this year?


This post is dedicated to J__ B__, who guided me through murky waters with wisdom, gentleness, and compassion.