Every pre-school kid understands the basics of negotiation. Jill wants Jane’s toy. Jill knows that taking Jane’s toy will probably be resisted by Jane – and she has older siblings and is a bit tough on the playground. So Jill, ever the resourceful one, finds some random and discarded bauble on the classroom’s floor, picks it up and presents it to Jane. “Here is a fine toy – a pleasant substitution for the one presently bringing you joy.” Assured in her own clever swap, Jill takes the trinket from Jane, attempting to replace it with her own. Not impressed by the sleight-of-hand, Jane cries foul. “This is not that,” the sleighted toddler exclaims.
Not surprisingly, Jane hoped to set the value of her own property. She held the object, and she held it in highest esteem. Jill agreed and hoped to make Jane’s toy her own. OK. Then let Jill bid for the article and let it find its own worth. At some point, the amount Jill is willing to pay would meet the amount Jane is willing to sell. If not, Jill is left unsatisfied. So, what is the problem?
The years pass, and pre-school becomes kindergarten, then middle school, then, almost in an instant, graduate school. Like a commercial for a time-traveling bank pen, we age quickly and imperceptibly. So as our bodies have matured, did our intellect keep pace? Do we seek fair exchange with those nearest to us? Or do we, like the aforementioned, single-minded toddler, hope to grab what we like, leaving behind that which has little or no value to us? If so, how can we expect to maintain relationships if we are routinely giving less that we take? Even more so, if we value so thinly the barter we offer to others?