Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘No

Yes or No

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When citizens want to ask their legislator a question, the best way is to visit. If you can, just show up with your question in hand.  The face to face dynamics between legislator and citizen (or even legislative aide and citizen) leaves a lasting impression that carries all the way to the ballot box.  Because that old saw, “What people do and what they say matters a lot less than how they made you feel” is absolutely true and doesn’t lie. Of course you want a substantive and true answer, but you want sincerity too.

The next best way is to call.  It’s fast and it’s direct.  It can be intimidating because the bureaucracy of a government official and their staff can feel off putting.  But voice to voice really is the next best way to hear how you’re regarded.  We all know what being dismissed over the phone sounds like, and if you can call your representative and you don’t hang up with that feeling, that’s a great thing.

The next best way is email.  While there is no direct, person to person contact, you do have a record which is the advantage of a letter combined with the immediacy of a phone call.  Again, the tenor of the reply quickly shows how dedicated the office of your congressman or congresswoman is to constituent services.

The last best way is by letter.  There is no direct, person to person contact and there is no immediacy.  But a letter has a cachet’ that none of the other forms have.  Offices know that when someone sits down and takes the time to write a letter, this is probably someone who is not going to be easily placated by a quick answer.  This type of person has patience.  They do their homework and they can be a legislator’s worst nightmare if they don’t get a personal and comprehensive answer.

So what does this have to do with a simple yes or no?

The more direct the interaction, the fewer opportunities for others to erect barriers between you and the answer you’re seeking.

Bill Cosby has a great routine where, one of his kids breaks a lamp and he asks, “Who did it?” The kid responds “I don’t know”.  But since that kid was the only kid in the room, as Cosby says, “You know who did it”.  Many times, when people call their legislator looking for answers to questions, the best kind of question to ask is one where a simple yes or no is really the only reasonable response.  Parents and the partnered know the logic of this.  When confronting a loved one, all you want to know is what is the answer, yes or no.  And you know, if you get a fifteen minute answer to a two second question, there is probably a lie in there somewhere.

Many times, the responder will argue that the answer needs context.  That they need to make sure you understand the circumstances around what made them make the decision they made.  They sometimes say an issue is too complicated to give a yes or no answer.  But if your kid breaks a lamp, or you find a condom missing from the box of condoms in your partner’s nighttable, you don’t need an explanation of the financial fortunes of Pottery Barn or how the process of vulcanization works.  A simple yes or no will do.

So when a question pops into your mind, dear citizen, do not let yourself be swayed by delays or obfsucation.  As with interviews, make clear what you want to know before you make contact.  Listen to the answer you get and ask yourself, does that answer the question?  If not, come around again and this time, be prepared to strafe.

The Ask

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Asking opens doors.  Asking makes the unconsidered, the inconceivable and the unapproachable, possible.  Asking is the wild card of the universe.  Because before we ask, we don’t know.  And because we don’t know, we assume.  And because we all have our own egos, large and small, we think we already know the answer.  So, we try to work around the issue to get to where we want to be without asking.  We try to get what we want without taking the one critical path that will definitively get us there, yes or no. 

We may think we don’t have the courage to ask or the stomach to ask or the humility to ask or the time to ask.  But not asking can set in motion a cascading, Angry Birds kind of collapse of the expectations we built thinking we can achieve escape velocity from metaphysical gravity.

Sometimes, only one person can make it happen and that person wants their respect before they give you yours.  Or they’ve been waiting a long time to deny you what you deeply want and you both know it.  Or, they’ve been dying to help you, but they want you to man or woman up and ask.  Sometimes, you don’t ask because you don’t want to know, but everything and everybody in your orbit is stopped, like some kind of Twilight Zoney solstice and they’re all waiting for you to move on. And of course, you can be stuck, forced to ask the wrong person who may take your ask and use it against you. But the ask isn’t about who you ask as much as it is about the act of asking and the direction that compass needle points. Yes, you can be betrayed. But the world is full of roads to your own Lotus blossom. Ask somebody else since The Ask can also help you circumvent demigods. Consequently, you may have to make a lot of asks before you finally get to an answer you’ve been praying for. But it’s possible to that answer will never come, no matter how may people you ask. And if you’re facing a wall because there is nobody else to ask, live with it … for now.  

Like all roads lead to Rome, sometimes, all routes and passageways do point you to your one and only one Omega man or woman. Of course, you can always opt out of the ask, and everything connected with it.  Our time here is full of smaller asks that we can avoid or can work around or can face easier than others.  Rarely in life does it come down to the one ask that changes everything.  But it does tend to happen, significantly, at least once.  And when it does, it’s usually the biggest thing we’ve faced, or will face.  So we can choose to not play it out, but chances are, it’ll be the one decision we’ll never forget; the one that will affect all the rest. 

The Ask is the crack of the bat in John Fogerty’s “Put me in Coach.”  The Ask, at the right time and to the right person, crushes everything else. The Ask can slam doors shut or blast them open. But to get either result for sure, you have to do it, face it, let it send you flying – up or down. Because in the end, the ask is all about you.

Written by Interviewer

March 26, 2013 at 22:31