The Power of a Three-Letter Word

by Deborah Epperson

Deborah Epperson

When my son was eight, he was hospitalized with a serious illness. Late one night, a nurse brought him a medication. Having worked in a hospital pharmacy, I was curious about the medicine and asked the nurse what it was called. I wasn’t familiar with the drug and asked her to double-check my son’s chart before administering the drug. I admit I felt a little awkward about asking her to check the chart again. After all, she was a health professional and I was a mom who hadn’t slept in three days.

When the nurse returned, she brought my son a different medicine. There had been a mix-up. I was happy I’d asked her to double-check, even at the risk of sounding stupid. She was glad too. All night long, she kept thanking me for asking her to check the medication. A serious accident was avoided because I decided to do one thing—I decided to ask.

Asking for what we want or need is a natural reaction, an instinct. Unfortunately, this instinct has been programmed out of most adults. Children have no qualms about asking for what they want. But after a few years of hearing “Stop asking so many questions,” and “Don’t ask me. I don’t know,” children learn it is safer to keep their mouths shut than to ask a question and risk ridicule or recriminations. Then we wonder why Johnny doesn’t ask for help with his homework and why Suzy never asks for our opinion. They become strangled by cultural conditioning against voicing their questions . . . just as we did.

This conditioning raises its ugly head whenever we want to ask for a raise, for information, for a sale, or for another opinion about a medical treatment. But conditioning is only one of the obstacles that stops us from asking for what we want. Three other barriers to asking are low self-esteem, pride, and fear.

As we grow, we develop an image of ourselves based upon our experiences, especially our childhood experiences. It’s this image that determines in large measure how we feel about ourselves. People with low self-esteem believe the needs of other people—their spouse, their children, their boss—are more important that their own needs and desires. Thus, they don’t ask for what they want because they think their needs are not worth mentioning or they feel unworthy. This is especially true among women, as we often feel it is our job to care for the needs of others first.

Pride stops many of us from asking for what we need. Is it conditioning or ego that makes us believe we need to do everything for ourselves? Perhaps, it’s a combination of both. Television commercials, print ads, and books all applaud the folks who are able to figure things out by themselves. We’ve become such a nation of do-it-yourselfers that we’re afraid asking for help will make us look weak and needy.

The biggest obstacle that prevents us from asking is fear. The fear of being ridiculed, rejected, or humiliated stops us from getting what we want, and stops us from giving the potential giver the joy of helping us.

The benefits of asking are endless. When we discover we can ask for anything, we take control of our lives and increase our personal power. When we ask for what we need, we are allowing the universe and other human beings to contribute to our success, our knowledge, and our happiness. And in doing so, we enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

Perhaps Gandhi said it best when he said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” So the next time that small voice in your head urges you to speak up and ask a question, listen to it. Learning to ask for what you want and need will change your life. It might even save it.

Thanks for stopping by,


One thought on “The Power of a Three-Letter Word

  1. It is so true about asking. I always asked my fourth child what he wanted for Christmas when he was young and never got any sort of a real request. He never had to talk because the older kids always talked for him and said what he wanted as a toddler. As he grew and went into school, he still didn’t ask for anything, was just a happy little guy. To this day I wonder if he ever got a Christmas gift he really, truly wanted. At forty-eight he still doesn’t ask, except for the important things, like raises in pay, etc. He did once ask at very nice girl to married him and she did. I wonder if she really knows what he really, truly wants for Christmas?

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