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

Me and Ricky reached the same conclusion. Amidst our meandering conversation, shooting words into the wind, we both agreed that there is an important principle at work in life: If you ask for what you want, you’ll often get it.

It was inspired while relating a story that was second hand in the telling. A biology teacher at Island School, the frightening Mrs. Lant, had the reputation of being a tremendous tormenting teacher who cajoled the best out of her students by being extremely firm; demanding precisely all they were capable of giving. And she got it.

As a student, such a person is scary. They demand you to work harder than you want to, to push boundaries faster then you’re willing, and to overcommit to things you don’t want to do just to keep them off your back. You fear going to their classes, because you don’t want to be exposed as failing that high standard or bearing the tongue lashing that would head your way for failing to hand in homework.

That said, what she demanded was effort. If you were genuinely putting in your best effort, and working at your maximum, she wasn’t such a harridan. She was willing to work with you and around your specific difficulty, to help you get to grips with the material. I know people who benefited from that aspect of her.

As a person, she’s proven instructive in hindsight. You never know what lessons you’ll learn from people. You do learn lessons from people, even those who are not vocationally teachers. Every person teaches us something. If you pay attention.

The reasons that asking works is simple. Most people are not mind readers. Most people don’t know you well. Most people don’t want to make decisions that affect you without your input. Most decent people don’t. Most people don’t give things without being asked. I know I don’t. If you do, then you are to be congratulated.

These people, the one’s you see everyday, who you have personal and professional interactions with, would love for you to take a stronger role in guiding them and explaining to them what it is you want. If you specify it clearly and cogently, they’ll give it to you. All you have to do is ask for what you want.

If you want to go attend the hearing for a day, as I do myself, then asking that question of my boss, got me a bit of hemming and hawing, a shrug of the shoulders and a “sure, why not”. If I hadn’t asked I don’t imagine for a moment that I’d be getting this opportunity.

What you cannot do is go around making arrogant and unjustified demands of people. Nor make irrational and extravagant requests. A thought out request, justified with cogent reasons, addressed towards the needs and responsibilities of the person you’re asking, will bring you a sure answer every time.

That answer will be yes.

As the Rolling Stones have kindly pointed out, this doesn’t mean that every time you ask, you succeed. Sometimes you can’t get what you want, its simply not possible, or they haven’t the commitment it takes to make what you ask for happen.

I find though, that when you ask things of people, and they refuse them to you, they try instinctively to remedy the balance. People understand what a commitment it takes people to ask things of others. Normal people don’t ask for things willy nilly, especially with people who are not in their intimate circle. By refusing you they have refused something that was (hopefully) quite a reasonable thing for you to ask. They will balance it out by offering something back to you, to balance what they have withheld.

It might be a smaller slice of the same pie, it might be something different but equivalent; there are thousands of things it might be. But you will get something from asking, a little more than you had before. For it is truly a universal truth that every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh shall it be opened [Matthew 7:8]