Relationships are transactional, i.e., a transfer occurs based on mutual action between two (or more) people. That which transfers may be tangible or intangible. For example, if I cook a meal for a friend, and, in turn, my friend answers the questions I have about string theory, something tangible (food) and something intangible (information) transfers or is exchanged. Thus, naturally, I try to seek relationships with individuals who have something of value to transfer. Of course, many people are alarmed to hear this explanation. The word "user" comes to their mind, and if they should dare to imagine themselves in such a situation, the urge to shun the feeling of selfishness overwhelms them to the point of pure denial, denial that their friendships are based on self-interest. However, I say transcend the delusion. We all seek that which is beneficial and avoid that which is not. Ultimately, it is helpful to recognize that there is a degree of self-interest in everything we do. To know it and to control it would make us better masters of ourselves.
As one might expect, the exchange of value between two or more persons can be complex. For instance, when I ask questions about string theory and my friend answers satisfactorily, he receives, not only the fine meal I have prepared for him but also an increase in his feeling of self-worth. He might consciously confirm to himself that he is a knowledgeable individual, or he might unconsciously delight in the good feeling of my approval of him. Either way, the rise in self-worth is a byproduct of the original food-for-information exchange, and there may be many other similar intangible byproducts that originate from a single exchange.
As for tangible exchanges, I am not interested in spending the effort to find those types of relationships as long as my relationship with my employer continues to remain steady in its satisfactory exchange of labor for money. Simply put, I don't need things from other people as long as I have a job that enables me to pay for things myself. Tangible exchanges involve the transfer of physical objects, including money. Naturally, there are valuable intangible byproducts that stem from an employee-employer relationship such as, again, the self-worth one allows himself or herself to receive based on the thought of the prestige of the position in which one serves (as long as the position is one of prestige). Also, the workplace is full of many relationships with varying degrees of valuable exchanges.
Exchanges are not all even, nor are they all of a positive value. Probably most every long-term relationship has periods of uneven and negative exchanges. An example of an uneven exchange can be demonstrated in the situation where I would serve my string-theory-knowledge-bearing friend a meal consisting of a candy bar and a glass of tap water in order to hear him explain a theory that only a handful of people in the world can explain. Other byproducts of the relationship may compensate for the imbalance of this particular instance of unbalanced exchange, however. Moreover, the potential long-term value of the relationship factors in as well.
A negative transaction can be both negative and unbalanced. A negative transaction occurs when at least one of the parties incurs property loss, financial loss, bodily injury, a decrease in professional or personal status, mental injury, or any other adverse affect on a person's well being. Intent (i.e., the deliberate will to cause harm) in the case of the negative transaction can serve to increase the injury. However, injury can be caused as a result of accident as well. Again, the potential value of the long-term relationship may be a factor in ameliorating the damage caused by the negative transaction.
In summary, relationships are transactional. Transactions between people are often complex; thus, being mindful of what one values, the quality of exchanges, byproducts, and the affect of long-term investments on relationships should serve to lessen imbalances and negative exchanges (unless, of course, one purposely seeks negative exchanges for their "stimulating" effect). As for my own mindfulness, I am aware that I prize the receipt of intellectual stimulation and the feeling of unconditional acceptance. The delight in shared experiences is also of the utmost value to me as long as the experience is slightly atypical or just off the beaten path. With that said, I'm happy to say that I have a couple of very cherished long-term relationships.
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