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October 25th, 2018

Consider the similarities between these two situations:  A friend owes us money and is avoiding us despite our attempts to get into contact with this friend


and the situation when we find out a friend has been talking ill of us behind our back.


Both are disappointing, unsavory situations that can easily spark feelings of anger, frustration and even depression.


Isn’t it interesting that the feelings of being owed a financial debt and being insulted are quite similar?


We might want to look a little more closely at the word ‘transaction’.  In both situations, some kind of transaction has taken place.  One fits the word more narrowly, and the other fits it more abstractly.  In the case of being owed money, the word transaction fits without explanation.  But what about the slight?


The word ‘transaction’ is formed from two parts.  ‘Trans’ meaning across, or between, and action, which needs no redefining. Transaction, at it’s most basic sense, simply means an action between two things, and primarily for our purposes, it’s an action between two people.   Suddenly the insult fits the meaning of transaction: it’s an action taken on the part of someone we know, the ramifications of which eventually flow to us.


Episode 93, entitled The Generator, deals with the concept of generosity, but it does well to bring the concept under the umbrella of transaction.  We might narrowly think of generosity as giving without expecting some kind of ROI, or return on investment, like a donation of sorts.  But even a donation is a kind of transaction.  It’s an action across or between two parties, and like the unsolicited compliment or even the above-average tip it is given with the tacit understanding that nothing further is expected in return.


With this primitive discussion of generosity, we can turn back to the friend who owes us money and ask the question: when have we given enough, or too much?  or we might ask: when has help turned into a situation where we are being taken advantage of?  There are plenty of people who are mindlessly hobbled by notions of greed and behaviors of dependency, so how do we find the cut-off point so to speak?


It depends on two things: memory, and conceptual principles.


The first one, memory, is fairly easy.  If we have a long memory and simply remember the time in the 2nd grade when such a friend stood up for us on the playground and saved us from some bully, that might go a long way years later when such a friend is stuck on hard times and even worse, hobbled by some sort of mindset that is replete with bad cyclical thinking and ruts of behavior.  Then again, there’s also the notion that feeding such dependency only entrenches such behavior further.  The path here is either sticky or slippery, but it sure isn’t clear.


Such is the reason why conceptual principles is the other pillar for framing such situations properly.  We might think of a startup company that is working on a moonshot problem.  Years might go by and tons of capital might be spent without any kind of result.  With a narrow set of conceptual principles that ride on a sort of “I scratch your back, you scratch my back” framework, such an investor might get fed up and pull funding, thinking that they’d been hamstrung. 


A good example was the genome project.  After 7 years of work, only 1% of the genome had been decoded, and many people extrapolated these numbers poorly and said it was going to take 700 years to decode the whole genome.  That’s a very poor conceptual framework that does not see reality properly.  It’s seeing the situation with the preconceived notion that’s of the same sort as “you scratch my back I scratch your back.”  What ended up happening with the Genome project was that all 100% was decoded within 14 years.  So getting to that 1% turned out to be half the work.  But without knowing the end of the story, it’s really hard to see that without the right conceptual principles to guide one’s thinking. 


If the friend that owes us money is spiraling down into some sort of dependency on drugs, then more money probably isn’t the best idea.  But if such a friend is trying to start a small business, then we might realize that such a person is very busy and stressed, and our repeated phone calls, while warranted, might be just adding unneeded stress during a difficult time.  Many, if not all of us have had the feeling of receiving a last warning sort of notification regarding a bill we need to pay.  Somehow, such notifications impress us to ignore the problem more, probably because they inspire stress and fear.  As the friend who wants money back, we might not realize that our warranted desires are actually undermining the transaction that we want to take place.  When ruthlessness is introduced, the termination of a friendship is always colloquially reasoned away with the precept “business is business”.  And doing so is a retreat to a much more narrow view of what a transaction is and what generosity is


We might regard the person who is willing to do the opposite and be generous to a kind of fault as a foolish person.  But we would do well to examine the sort of mindset required to open our wallet again and say “here take more.”


It’s exact in nature to the old advice of ‘turn the other cheek’, which is in essence a declaration to one’s self that there is no bottom to the well of our generosity, whether given or taken.  It’s a creed that leads to a kind of invincible mindset, one that states that no matter how bad things get, I can stand back up, brush myself off, smile at fate – no matter it’s cruelty or greed – laugh in the face of it and move on to something productive.  And we must at this point take a good clear look at what the word ‘productive’ means.  It’s our ability to produce something.  A synonym might be generate, as in, our ability to generate things.  And it’s our ability to generate things that enables us to be generous.


We almost always pay the bare minimum, as set by the seller, the one who has produced whatever thing we wish to acquire and who has set the price, and little is better than something that is free, though the experience feels just a bit hollow.  We might be well to think of the rare experience at a restaurant when we feel compelled to give a tip exceeding the cultural designation.  What has happened in this instance?  The person who inspires such a tip by producing some kind of excellent service still operates with the assumption that their work will be valued in accordance to the cultural norms.  This is one of the areas of life where our narrow definition of the word ‘transaction’ seems to strain the seams of the word and spill out into a more generous area.  There are other less intuitive examples where transaction begins to smear to the point of transparency, and other cherished ideas begin to shine through.


The well-paid executive of a charity for example.  As a person who might want to donate to a charity, it might seem against the nature of a charity for the top executive to receive a 6-figure salary.  If such a person wants to work for a charity, shouldn’t their life and means reflect such?  This is a narrow view of the notion of transaction with regards to the nature of running an organization that hopes to do good.  The board of such an organization might be stumped as to how to level-up their fundraising abilities in order to do more good, and so they find a capable candidate who can help such an organization level-up and ultimately do lots more good, but in order to attract such a candidate, there has to be a good salary to match the generous talent of such a person.  To the person of little means who wishes to make a donation, this seems at first glance to just be another play by the greedy corporate world, but given the logic above, it’s possible such a person could easily be wrong.


Transaction, might at first glance be unsavory when applied to all nature of human interaction.  We probably feel uncomfortable thinking of our generosity as a sort of transaction because such would imply an expectation of return on our part which is not at the core of our equally-narrow definition of generosity.  However, both words, taken in tandem can open each other up.  If we look at transaction less as an equal trade and more as an act of generosity, we might find in the long run – one that outstrips our memory and may even go beyond our conceptual principles, the generosity comes back to us, in accordance to another old precept:


What goes around, comes around.


With this cycle in mind, we might ask: what am I adding?


Even more important would be the question: What else can I add to this cycle?  More than what I’m currently getting back?


The episode references Episode 93:The Generator, Episode 125: Rut, Episode 42: Level-up.

Podcast Ep. 193: Transaction

Tinkered Thinking