This one started out with us setting out by train without a destination, not knowing where we’d be when we stopped. It was our annual trip, my youngest brother and I: our vacation together. The morning after we settled on a location, they handed over menus. “Ice cream for breakfast,” we looked at one another as if we were getting away with something.
So close we were to Italy, morning gelato wasn’t uncommon, although for us, unheard of. Indecent even! We saw the mysterious phenomena of it all. Taste, firmly rooted in all of us, and context, which loosely supplants a story about what should be, guide everything. We were delighted to have ice cream for breakfast, we just hadn’t expected it.
“Good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste.” That’s Arnold Bennett for whom the Omelette Arnold Bennett — smoked haddock, cream, and Parmesan cheese — is named. An unlikely combination, Bennett requested it, insisted upon it in fact, whenever he traveled, so much so that this egg dish was named in his honor. It was his own taste. But instead of assuming he couldn’t have it, he asked. He simply knew what he wanted, and requested it. Simple ingredients. Simple preparation. He got what he wanted. And the rest, history.
Every day, we must ask for things. We know what we need, ideas based on our own tastes — good, bad, but our own — and we find ourselves in a position of reaching out to others to ask for things. Important people. Busy people. People with their own values and tastes that differ from our own. And whenever we reach out to people, to strangers, to friends, to ask for things, the simple fact is: no matter how well we know them, we don’t know their context.
When contacting people for the first time, whether getting in touch by email, phone, or letter, there is no need to reference what you assume to be their context:
“I know you’re probably swamped, but …”
“I am sure you’re absolutely busy, but …”
“I am positive you have too many emails to read, but …”
“I know that you never want to take on new projects, but …”
By introducing a greeting this way, you’ve assumed a context that may or may not be true. When we request value from another, we often make assumptions that impose another story on the individual. You know your own context, your own taste. Nothing more. Instead, be simple in your request. Just ask without assumptions.
What we like (our taste) and what we know (our context) is what we bring to a scenario. Show value. Show kindness. And the sweet reward may follow.