Beware “I haven’t been asked” trap


He’s our poet – but you might not know it: Parliament’s official wordsmith bemoans lack of meaningful work. That’s the headline that stood out for me this morning in today’s Edmonton Journal. The issue: Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate, Fred Wah, “has been asked to write just one poem during his two-year term.”

Reporter Randy Boswell tells us that “Canada’s national poet has warned that the taxpayer-funded position risks becoming ‘homogenized and diluted’ and expressed frustration that during his two-year term in Ottawa he’s been asked to produce just one work – a ‘mediocre’ poem about the Queen’s diamond jubilee…”

Here’s what Wah said to Boswell: “I wish that my government had asked me to write poetry about immigration policy, about Idle No More, about Canada’s complicity in the Middle East, the Enbridge pipeline… I haven’t been asked to do any of those things.” I read sadness and disappointment in Wah’s words. He would love to offer more, but he hasn’t been asked.

He’s fallen into the “I haven’t been asked” trap.

When we wait to be asked, we disengage ourselves from the work we really want to be doing. By waiting to be asked, Wah is not feeding his own writing – and his soul – by exploring his passions and desires. By lingering in this trap, he might be missing that he has been asked. The official “ask” of Wah, according to section 75.1 of the Parliament Act of Canada, is to write poetry:

The poet laureate may:

  1. write poetry, especially for use in Parliament on occasions of state;
  2. sponsor poetry readings;
  3. give advice to the Parliamentary Librarian regarding the collection of the Library and acquisitions to enrich its cultural holdings; and
  4. perform such other related duties as are requested by either Speaker or the Parliamentary Librarian.

That first point is significant: the poet laureate may write poetry. He is not required to write only for occasions of state, or only at the request of either Speaker, or on specific subjects. Simply: the poet laureate may write. According to the Parliament of Canada website, his position enjoys great freedom: “The poet laureate is free to determine his or her specific activities within these parameters.” In his official position, he has the freedom to write, yet it is not  choosing to write.

Choose what you want to do.

If you wait to be asked, you might not ever do it. You might not ever feel that you have been your true self. You might not ever offer all you have to offer the world around you. Meaningful work is what we make for ourselves, not what others make for us.

Wah’s trap is familiar to me. I have found myself waiting to be asked on many occasions. Sometimes for years. None of us are immune to this and I do not hold any disregard for Wah. We all make these traps for ourselves; it is the human condition. What they really are is a threshold to cross – and the struggle to make the decision to cross it.

Jump in.

Thresholds are a natural part of our individual and collective learning journeys. They help us reach the places we wish to go. The struggles we experience at such thresholds are powering us up to be better citizens – and create better cities.

Wah has many things to offer the world in his writing. He offers a lot in speaking up about waiting to be asked. My ask of Wah is this – write about whatever moves you. Write to make the world a better place. Boldly grow your Highest Self to grow a better world.

Follow your passion to change your city

And Parliament too, it seems.

If you weren’t waiting to be asked, what would YOU do?


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This post is part of Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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