The Art of Begging

Sometimes it feels like my life has become all about begging. Actually, in looking back, perhaps my whole life has been about begging. Not panhandling, per se, but how masterfully I am able to ask for what I want. There are no shortages of articles that encourage their readers to ask for what they want, which is said to promote a feeling of empowerment over what we can accomplish and that we don’t need to toil alone. While I do believe that this philosophy has its merits, it also leaves me pondering the line between asking for what we want and seeking charity, which is where begging becomes an art.

I use to think that begging was simply the equivalent of panhandling and only happened in big cities. Then I went to Africa. What I encountered over there is that it is widely believed that all white people have a lot of money. Then, given that belief, all one has to do is ask for it and money will be generously handed to them. No one, adults and children alike anywhere you go, is shy about asking for the money they believe the color of your skin has afforded you. Some people do hand out money, others don’t. It really makes little difference to the person doing the asking whether they are given any money or not, but they all see the advantage in trying. Google the definition of ‘beg’ and this is what you get:

Beg      verb

1. ask (someone) earnestly or humbly for something.
“I begged him for mercy”
Synonyms: implore, entreat, plead with, appeal to, supplicate, pray to, importune;

2. ask for something, typically food or money, as charity or a gift.
“a young woman was begging in the street”
Synonyms: panhandle, ask for money, seek charity, seek alms;

Perhaps the difference in asking for what we want and seeking charity is semantics. I, too, have fallen victim to the nuance of the word ‘beg,’ but have been a practitioner of the art form since childhood. Over the years, I have kindly requested specific gifts for holidays, extended curfews, that my daughter eat her dinner, my son throw his laundry into the hamper, that someone fix the leaky downspout, immigration to approve my work permit, the guy whose profile I’m crushing on to meet me for coffee, human resources of my dream job to take a good look at my resume and experience, and a literary agent to read my manuscript – just to name a few.

When my kind requests are ignored and disregarded I slip to pleading. Sometimes persistence is all that is required to keep things moving in the direction I am pushing toward, other times I am forced to slip further to seeking charity. This line of thought presents the art of begging as a spectrum, complete with a range of emotions. At the ‘asking for what you want’ end it’s easy to be optimistic and cheerful, but the closer to the ‘seeking charity’ end the more hopeless things can feel. There may even be tears as you cry for help, for someone to listen, for someone to understand.

Maybe ‘beg’ is too harsh of a word and is viewed as a form of laziness; asking someone else to do something we can’t or won’t do for ourselves. Maybe it feels too guilt-inducing or reciprocal, such as a favor owed. However you see it, the connotation relies heavily of the perspective of the person asked, which is heavily influenced by the attitude of the person doing the asking. It’s also a mindset based on how the person doing the asking views what they are asking for, how they feel about who they are asking, and how they deal with rejection – because, let’s face it, “you can’t always get what you want” – as The Rolling Stones so eloquently stated.

At the end of the day, there is a subjectively fine line between asking for what you want and seeking charity. The only difference between the two is the finesse with which you do it and your motivation. So, keep practicing! After all, no one will ever know what you need, or want, unless you ask. Go ahead and beg! You might just get what you want! Good luck!

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