Last week, I received a private message from someone I don’t know through my Facebook fan page. He told me he had written two books and have been looking to be published. He asked if I could read his manuscripts and help him with his writing as well as getting publishers to publish his books. I wrote back to him, politely declining, saying that I don’t have the time for that.
I thought that was the end of the matter. I was wrong.
A few days later, he wrote a long message in reply to mine. He started off saying how he was not good in English and he was not good in writing etc. To cut a long story short, he attempted to tell me off by reminding me that when I started out, I must have received favours from other famous people. He said that even before I replied to him, he already knew what my answer was. He then went on to say that when he becomes famous, he would never do what I did to him to other people. He concluded his message by saying that he was going to remove himself from my fan page.
The whole message was totally bizarre. For one, I don’t know the guy from a bar of soap. Where he got the notion that some famous people launched my career as a writer was beyond me. It was obviously an assumption he made based on a reality he lives in where a person can only make something happen through currying favours from others.
I, on the other hand, operate based on a different set of ideals. In my world, it takes EVERYTHING to make something happen. It takes hard work, it takes humility, it takes a large amount of willingness to learn and grow, it takes time and consistent practice in honing your craft, it takes being focused on the goal but being flexible in the approach, it takes an unwavering belief in a dream, and it takes persistence in taking action and co-operating with others to create value. But most important of all, it takes faith that something magical will happen.
By magical, I’m really referring to the metaphysical and the divine.
I did not win three writing awards from someone else doing me favours. Every single word I wrote in every single story that went to print was published because they deserved it, not because I pulled some strings and dropped a few names here and there. Every single dollar of the prize money I have won was through my own discipline and hard work, combined with a gift that God has given me and acting on inspiration and ideas the universe have planted in my mind. I was a small town teenage girl writing in a language that was not my own, with no connections to any publishers, writers or mentors and no support system of my own to make anything happen. A lot of it came from blind obstinacy but a lot of it also came from blind faith. I didn’t know how it was going to happen—it just did.
But that is not the point of this article. The point of this article is about fair exchange. I’m not against helping people getting to their dreams but I am mindful that I have the same 24 hours as everyone else. Time is my most precious commodity. Once it is gone, I can never get it back. If I had to pick between using my time to pursue my dreams versus using it to pursue a stranger’s dreams, I would choose me every single time, unless he or she can show me a value proposition that is attractive enough for me to do otherwise. Unless there is a payoff for me. Unless there is fair exchange. In this case, all I could get from reading his message is all the things he needed me to do for him. There was nothing in it for me. In his case, there was no fair exchange. When I perceive there is no fair exchange taking place, the logical thing for me to do is to not enter into an agreement with him.
In the world of commerce, exchange is a widely accepted practice. When I go to a restaurant to have lunch or dinner, the chef and his staff prepare my meal. In exchange, I pay the restaurant money equivalent to the value they have assigned to my meal. I get fed. They get paid. Everyone’s happy. If I feel that the price they charge (the value they have assigned to my meal) is too high for what they serve me (the value I assign to my meal), it’s not a fair exchange from my point of view. I won’t go back to the same restaurant next time, I’ll just take my business elsewhere. Plain and simple. Very straightforward.
Outside the world of commerce, however, fair exchange becomes less straight forward. Value becomes something that is less tangible and less easily comparable. Unlike the world of commerce where everything has a market price—cost of labour, materials, rent, utilities etc, outside the world of commerce, value is very subjective. The value of relationships for example, whether it is in friendships, romantic relationships or familial relationships, often comes in the form of mental, emotional and spiritual reward. When two people come together in a relationship, it is often for a mutual benefit. Each person contributes to the relationship and each gets something out of it. Over time, this may change and evolve, sometimes people continue to stay in fair exchange, other times not. When two people are no longer in fair exchange, contribution becomes contamination, pleasure becomes poison. In the world of commerce, the solution for this is simple—people will take their business elsewhere. Outside the world of commerce, this is not always the case.
Very rarely do we think about personal relationships the same way we do business transactions. In personal relationships, there is so much of the intangibles involved that it is often difficult to be objective. There is the element of biological ties, history, the expectations that come with the history, needs of all kinds—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual needs etc and also—in the case of a marriage—offspring. Sometimes, we continue to stay in a relationship that is no longer in fair exchange out of fear that there is no one else out there for us. The reasons are many and varied.
So, how do we know when a relationship is no longer in fair exchange? The most effective barometer is how you feel about the relationship.
Does it make you happy to be in it?
Are your needs being met while you’re meeting the other person’s needs?
Are your values being upheld or are they being violated?
Are you acting out of obligation or out of love?
Do you feel resentment towards the relationship or do you feel fulfilled by it?
The value you derive from the relationship is based largely on your perception. And perception is something that changes when you change. So when your perception of value changes, your relationships need to change for you to continue to stay in fair exchange. Failing which, it might be time to reconsider other alternatives.
As for the stranger who asked me to do all the things he needed, I advised him that there is a lot of good, free information over the internet that can help him with what he is looking for. I also politely told him he can go ahead and remove himself from my fan page, he doesn’t need my permission for that.
In the world of commerce, there is a term for someone who takes something without giving anything in return i.e without paying for it. It’s called a criminal.
If you’re in a relationship that is a criminal exchange, maybe it’s time to get out.
To fair exchanges,
When you say “Yes” to someone else, make sure you’re not saying “No” to yourself. ~ Paulo Coelho