Our cousin, a quite demanding young man, came to stay with us when we we were graduate students in Canada. After a challenging couple of days my husband Tzvi went shopping with him. He later told me that when they got to the beer section, the cousin announced: “I love beer,” Tzvi calmly responded “so do I" and kept on walking.
We both knew that this statement meant only one thing: the cousin asked for beer and his request was denied. However, Tzvi’s unexpected reply demonstrated that there could be other responses in the repertoire. In that case he chose to treat the cousin's declaration as an invitation to engage in male bonding: The two of us are united in our love of beer.
As for the cousin, by voicing only the sentiment and omitting its subsequent request, he shifted the responsibility for fulfilling his wishes to Tzvi and counted on his hospitality and good-will. Unfortunately for the cousin, Tzvi, unlike most polite people, delighted in ignoring such hints. If it was I who had gone shopping with him, my response would have been quite different: “Oh, so you love beer, how about getting some for dinner” to that my ever civilized cousin would have responded “But only if You Guys drink as well" and most likely I would have answered:" Of course we do."
Now is the time to disclose that I don’t even like beer and never drink it.
This was an amusing but inconsequential incident. However, more meaningful "beer loving moments,” are quite ubiquitous in our life, especially in our relationships with those who are close to us. There are times when I too shy away from direct requests, and instead wait for my family to guess my needs. It may very well be that, to speed up matters, I also drop some hints.
And then there is the other side of those moments, we are so ready to preempt our children’s needs and often are overly attuned to our loved ones‘ wishes that we rush to fulfill them before they were even formulated. Do you need a ride? Would you like some money? And of course you can take my car, are only few examples.
The problem with implied, unvoiced or indirect requests is their lack of ownership. Since the recipient never specifically asks for help, there is often no acknowledgement or appreciation of that help which was thrust upon him/her.
As a child I read a story about a rich man who helped his poor neighbor. Later on he kept reminding the recipient of what he had done for him, thus making his life miserable. I guess that the moral of the story was that you should never demand gratitude for your good deeds. In Hebrew the word for gratitude is revealing, its literal translation is "a prisoner of thanks." Of course no one should be held prisoner, but an acknowledgement of that help expressed in a simple thank you is important to both sides.
My mother used to say that in our contacts with people who are close to us either we don't have to ask for help (because they will recognize the need themselves and address it), or it is of no use (since they won't lift a finger to help). It took me years to realize the error, and the danger, of such belief. If I need help it is my responsibility to let other people know my needs, and it is their right to refuse me. And if I receive help, I should not forget to acknowledge it and show my gratitude.
Such an arrangement promotes simpler and friendlier world, it is a shame that I can't share this insight with my mother.