What's wrong with asking for things?

I tutor a child in an afterschool program. Frequently, she asks me to bring her something - a pencil, a present, and once, she asked me to bring her an ipad. I have brought her a couple things - a notebook that she seemed to need, a couple pencils, some little markers. But when I told my wife, she said, “You should tell that girl that she shouldn’t ask for things. It’s not right.” And I’m wondering, since there’s something in what she said that rings true, why not? Essentially, my question is what is the underlying ethic or value that says that asking for things is not right? or appropriate? What’s wrong with it? I’m not totally convinced it’s even wrong, but I’m interested in seeing if this source can provide me with some ways of thinking about the question.

How old is this child? How long have you been tutoring her? Is she developmentally delayed in some way? Have you discussed this with her parents?

Without more information, the simple answer is that asking for things may be or may not be appropriate under given circumstances.

She’s 8 or 9. She’s not developmentally delayed at all. She’s just about at age level in reading but she’s getting some extra help. She is from Sudan and maybe the values of community are different there, but my question pertains to the US - the West. What’s wrong with asking for things? Why do we say that there’s something wrong with it?

It’s not clear to me that there is something wrong with it. (Why don’t you ask your wife why she thinks so?)

You are tutoring this child; you are explicitly in a role of assisting her education. It seems pretty natural that she should ask you for things to help her in that. It might not actually be appropriate for you to provide them, but in that case couldn’t you explain to her the right avenues, in this society?

A pencil? - OK, maybe. I would stress that the student is expected to come prepared to the tutoring session.

A present? - Extremely manipulative.

An IPad? - You are being mugged.

I’m going to go out on a limb a suggest that the subject and the tutor are at different socio-economic levels, and the subject thinks that the tutor is “rich” and therefor should give freely. This is not a pattern you want to encourage.

A lot depend on context and circumstances, and how it’s asked. If she asked for something that you couldn’t or wouldn’t want to bring to her, would she be upset or okay? If she was upset and felt entitled to things, that would be where I would be wanting to have a talk with her.

There are circumstances where it is okay to ask for things. My parents always want to get me presents for my birthday and Christmas, so it’s okay that I ask them for certain things then. Or in relationships, it’s reasonable to ask for things from your partner, assuming of course that you have compromises and they also ask for things from you.

There is a certain boldness is just asking for things, that will actually help you get ahead to a certain extent in our society. It’s a good skill to have in the workplace, or when talking with salespeople in trying to buy a car or other big things. It can definitely be good in school, since things can be overlooked if you don’t demand attention.

But some people, women especially, are non-confrontational, and could be taken advantage of by people who will boldly ask for things without caring about being rude. I could easily imagine this child being in an unequal friendship with another little girl at school, where she is constantly asking for things and her friend says yes and gives her everything because the friend was trained to be polite. So there needs to be a balance.

Suppose she sees me as rich. What would be wrong about her asking me for things? I’m trying to focus on the concept of asking someone for something, not out of dire need, but more out of desire. Aside from the possibility of being disappointed, what’s wrong with asking? Somehow, it feels as if it isn’t nice to do. Isn’t appropriate. But I can’t quite dig down into my own thinking to determine why that would be so. What essential values might it conflict with?

I don’t think asking is inherently wrong. Expecting is problematic.

Could it be that some people feel obligated to provide what someone asks for, and consider it rude or bad manners to say “No” to something? And instead of working that out for themselves, they turn it around to try to make the act of asking itself the “rude” thing to do?

I’m also having trouble putting it into words. Why is *anything *inappropriate? Uh, because Society has decided “it simply isn’t done”. There’s some element of greed with a hint of entitlement there. Or something like that. Maybe a hint of it not being your obligation (?) It’s weird; I feel pretty strongly that it’s not right- if I had a child I would not be happy to hear of them behaving that way - yet I cannot seem to articulate precisely why it doesn’t sit right.

Self-reliant, pull-your-own-bootstraps values. If you can’t obtain something for yourself, you don’t deserve it. Some people get stuff and some people don’t, but life ain’t fair and cryin’ don’t make it so. Go save your allowance. Learn the value of a dollar. Don’t rely on other people to take care of you; learn to take care of yourself. Learn that material possessions are ephemeral and ultimately worthless. Don’t put people in the spotlight/on the stand/in a corner. If you rely on someone else to provide what you need, what will you do when that someone else goes away?

It’s somewhere in there.

Since you’re tutoring her and I am something of a softy wrt all the above, I’d have no problem giving her pencils, notebooks, and other necessary and easily affordable school supplies.

Presents and iPads, though, are inappropriate requests, and she should be gently rebuffed when she makes them.

Can I Have That?

For one thing, you can’t always tell who is rich or not, and a child especially might see someone as rich when they are only rich compared to her. There’s probably at least one teacher at her school who is a new teacher, and loves all the kids and will do anything for them, and is already spending too much money on supplies for the classroom even though she’s barely scrapping by because of student loans and her small salary. This kid could ask that teacher for something and probably get it from her, but I would see it as taking advantage, even if it’s unintentional and without malice.

The value of working to earn what you desire.

We have a word for someone who seeks everything they want by just asking for it: “beggar”.

Whether you think begging isn’t a big deal or not, much of the rest of society has pretty strong feelings about it, so making someone accustomed to begging is inviting them to a lifetime of ostracism and disrespect.

We don’t want the have-nots asking for things because it puts the haves in the uncomfortable situation to say “No”. To make it easier on the haves, we shame the have-nots into silence.

Plus, to be gruesome, a girl-child who asks for presents like that will play more easily into the hands of an abusive manipulator when she gets older. Sure, I’ll give you presents, but I need favors in return.

It’s not wrong as such, but it may be culturally inappropriate, depending on local mores.

The underlying principle is reciprocity - we expect people to give and take at roughly equal levels, with appropriate adjustments for situations like childhood, where there’s more giving from adults to children, on the understanding that they’ll pay it forward down the track.

All societies have different ways of regulating these exchanges. In some, it’s expected that it’s regulated by people remembering to give at frequent intervals - birthdays, celebrations, or when it’s known someone is likely to be in more than usual need, eg after the birth of a child, between jobs, etc. I others, it’s expected that when you need stuff you ask - it’s nobody else’s job to monitor your needs, or offer.

If her amount of asking is significantly higher than the norm, she’ll stand out. How much that’s a problem will depend on the rest of her social behaviour. For instance:

Asking her classmates for little things like a handful of their chips, or if she can take home little toys they’ve brought to school - bad, flags her as a ‘taker’

Asking for things but also spontaneously giving little gifts on a regular basis - weird, but probably okay, since it satisfies people’s sense of balance.

Giving little gifts all the time and never asking … kinda not okay again, actually, because people get embarrassed to be the takers all the time.

As a tutor (good for you, btw :)) you’re in a different position than a classmate, but it sounds like your social radar is going off a little - ‘this child is behaving differently to what I know the social norm is.’ And knowing the social norm will be, if nothing else, helpful information for her to have.

I opened this thread figuring someone else would already have brought up “Ask vs. Guess” culture.

I first heard of this concept in a widely linked metafilter answer but that might be referring to concepts already at large.

Even within American culture there is a divide around whether it is ok to ask for things but be ready to hear the answer no or whether you should only ask for something when you can pretty well guess that the answer is yes and it is rude to impose the necessity of saying no onto someone.

In some of the South Seas island societies it is perfectly acceptable to ask someone for their shoes (that they are wearing) or even, in some cases, for their baby, with saying no being somewhat unacceptable.

so the little girl may be coming from a culture with a different “ask” culture than ours and you should feel fine about letting her know clearly where your lines are. You could even say, “nope, that’s too big an ask for me!”

Oh yeah, that reminds me - there’s also, of course, a difference between cultures that expect lots of reciprocity, (Martha takes care of Sally, and Sally takes care of Martha), and cultures that are the ‘rugged individualist’ type, where you’re expected to look after yourself first.

I would say that the US is generally pretty close to the ‘rugged individualist’ end of the spectrum. So that’s possibly something she has to learn about too.

You never get what you don’t ask for.

Now, the flip side is you don’t always get what you ask for.

She got some pencils, a notebook, and some markers. Unfortunately for her she didn’t get the iPad. How did you explain that she wasn’t getting an iPad from you?

You are of course under no obligation to give her anything, but you did.

If you bought a car or a house, when you were negotiating the purchase, did you ask for any extra things, like throw in the sunroof for free, or free maintenance for the first 2 years, or free home warranty for 5 years, etc. If you don’t ask, you will definitely not get them.