Howard Mansfield

author of numerous books about preservation, architecture, and history

The Ask


In small towns, and society in general, we live by the Don’t Ask. We let our neighbors pursue their lives, in happiness or sorrow. We don’t interfere; we don’t snoop. We ask each other for time, respect, patience, understanding, visibility, and invisibility. Look at us, look away. Invisibility is essential. We avert our gaze. We mute our curiosity. We give our neighbors the room to live. We don’t question their contradictions. When I was younger I would have called this hypocrisy. Now I think it may be kindness, or just the mercy we show each other. It is, however, tangled up in false telling, and you have to refuse a numb acceptance of cruelty and suffering.