‘Give and take’ is a commonly used phrase in our culture. I think there is a lot of truth in this concept and it sounds similar to the idea of ‘give and receive’, so I thought I’d take a closer look at the similarities and differences between these two ideas.
To start with they both describe some form of exchange between more than one party. This may be an exchange of any sort, it could be of labour, information and ideas, money or goods and so on.
Inherent within the phrase ‘give and take’ is an implied compromise. In the case of exchange of ideas it implies that you will take on board at least some of another person’s ideas in order that some portion of your ideas will be accepted. This is something that goes on in politics all the time, and part of what can make it difficult for a politician to keep their integrity as they can be placed in situations where in order to progress ideas (legislation) that they believe in they are faced with making compromises that progress other peoples ideas (amendments, or other pieces of legislation) that they may not believe in. I don’t envy politicians the difficult decisions they must sometimes make in these situations.
On a smaller scale this happens in our everyday interactions with the people around us all the time. Going out to dinner with friends, different members of your group may feel like different types of food and others may not really mind what they eat. In order for the greater good or happiness of the group, several group members may compromise on what they want to eat, agreeing on something that is not their first choice but is acceptable to all so that the group may happily share in each other’s company for the meal.
In terms of exchange of labour, money or goods, there is an implication that both parties will not get everything they want out of the exchange, but will give something up that they want in order that they can get something else that they want or need more. At its extreme you could take this as implying that each party would rather not give up anything in order to get what the other person is offering, they would rather keep it for themselves AND have what the other person is offering. Thus what they put into the exchange is ‘taken’ from them as they would rather not actually give it up, even if they do agree to the exchange.
For example if I were to go out to buy some donuts, the donut vendor would put a price on his donuts that he will take for them, lets say $10 for a dozen. In a ‘give and take’ relationship there is an implication that I would rather keep my $10 and have the donuts as well, but because I want the donuts more than the $10 I give up the money, so that I can take the donuts. The converse is true of for the donut seller. The exchange is free in that we both agree to it, but not completely free in that there is a set price required in order for me to obtain the donuts. I don’t have the option of paying $5 for them, or giving no money at all. Equally it is unlikely that I will pay $20 for them because in these types of exchanges we tend to give as little as we can so that we can keep more for ourselves. Thus the idea of give and take tends to imply and reinforce the idea of a world of scarcity.
Compulsion – Take and be Taken From
Because the idea of scarcity is implicit in ‘give and take’ exchanges, it means that parties to the exchange cannot all have everything they want. They have to give up something they want in order that they can have or share in something that they want more. This means that there is always a certain begrudging tone to the exchange, both parties have agreed to the exchange but they would rather not actually give up what they have agreed to if they can avoid it – it must be taken from them. This implies a certain level of compulsion in the exchange, and this is the case with most transactions in the world today, there is either an implicit or explicit contract which means that if one party gives up certain things they are entitled to ‘take’ certain things in return as part of the transaction contract. Failure of one party to supply what they agreed can lead to the contract being enforced against them so the other party can take what was agreed, possibly including penalties and using external enforcement agencies such as police, courts and so on.
In a sense because the exchange is a two way exchange, and each party is entitled to ‘take’ what is agreed from the other party, ‘give and take’ is actually ‘take and be taken from’. This leads to great conflict in the world, as each person ‘fights’ for their own best interests.
I know this sounds like an extreme interpretation of the situation, and I certainly think that ‘give and take’ and its implied negotiated agreement of exchange is far preferable to ‘take what you want’ or ‘might is right’, but I hope that this interpretation will make more sense to you as we look more into an alternative view of exchange and we discuss more issues surrounding our current exchange environment in future blog posts. When we have become used to a certain way of viewing and interacting with the world it tends to become embedded in our thinking to the extent that its underlying assumptions become invisible to us. When we really examine our view in depth we can sometimes be surprised by what we find lying underneath it.
Not convinced that being ‘taken from’ is a common implied part of our normal day to day exchanges? Have you ever had to dispute a bill or invoice you disagreed with? It takes considerable effort, and the company in question may try to ‘take’ what they think they are owed through various types of enforcement. Have you ever tried not paying your taxes? The tax department will find ways to take those taxes from you or enforce penalties against you.
Turns both into ‘Givers’
Ok, so lets turn our discussion from ‘give and take’ to an alternative concept of exchange ‘give and recieve’. The key difference is of course the substitution of the word ‘take’ with ‘recieve’. This has quite significant implications for the exchange relationship. Each party to the exchange effectively becomes a giver rather than a taker. They each give what it is that they want to give and receive in return what the other party wants to give. There is no compulsion in the exchange, as each party gives only what they want to and the other party has no right to demand more or something different as the giving was not conditional on what would be received – there are no rights to ‘take’.
This implies that each party is willing to give things up even if they receive nothing for them in return, this in turn implies a world of abundance where each party can have what they want without worrying about getting what the other party has from them.
The giving instead of being due to obligation or fear of repercussions becomes an expression of gratitude and possibly of concern for the wellbeing of the other person. The focus instead of being how much you can get from the other person and how little you can contribute in the exchange, switches to appreciation of what your are receiving, and thinking about how much you are able to give freely in return.
Even if the exact same amount of money, information, goods or services are exchanged in this way as would be exchanged in a ‘give and take’ relationship, the net result is different. Because of the freedom of the exchange, there is no room for begrudging the other party which can occur when things are ‘taken’. Instead as parties to the exchange think about the welfare of the other person when deciding what and how much to give, this can create positive feelings towards each other. The inherent gratitude underlying the exchange means that the focus is put on what each person has, instead of what they don’t have. This is a powerful change of mindset and can help each party to recognize the abundance in the world and be happy and contented with what they have, instead of always seeking for more (whether or not they actually need it).
In terms of information exchange, to give and receive freely implies that there is no need to compromise your personal views when exchanging ideas with other people. Both parties to the exchange give their ideas freely without any expectation or need for the other person to take on those ideas. Each person is free to take on as much or as little from the other person as they want to. I think as a society we are coming closer and closer to this ideal. Whereas in the past people tended to easily become suspicious or uncomfortable with people who thought or acted differently, many of us are now completely comfortable living alongside people with very different views and lifestyles to our own, and in many cases even enjoy and celebrate the diversity.
To refer back to the dining out example used earlier in this post, giving and receiving ideas freely is a bit like being able to eat at a foodcourt or buffet where everyone can get exactly what they want. No-one has to compromise their personal tastes to enjoy the meal with others. The fact that someone else chooses to eat something different to you doesn’t detract from your enjoyment at all and in fact may give you the opportunity to try something new that you would like – but only if you want to.
In terms of exchange of goods, people only give what they want to. The never feel compelled to give up something that they don’t want to, and they never feel compelled to give up more than they want to. This means that they enter into the exchange with a very different set of expectations. This has big implications in the areas of job satisfaction and work/life balance.
Give and take has a lot going for it. I think this concept encapsulates some of the significant progress we have made as a society over the years, but the ‘take’ part of it has it’s downside as this can imply compulsion and no-one likes to be taken from. I think ‘give and receive’ could be another step forward for our society bringing greater social harmony and appreciation of the amazing abundant world we live in.
I may have overstated, understated or expressed poorly some of the ideas in this blog post. I’m really just trying to figure a lot of this stuff out myself. As mentioned in the post, these ideas are given freely and you don’t have to take any of them onboard if you don’t want to. I do hope you’ll stick with me though as I continue to explore these ideas and further refine and develop them. The idea of a world of free exchange raises many intriguing questions which I intend to explore in future blog posts, as well as continuing to post updates on my own practical experimentation with these ideas.