I'm trying to sort out my preference between transactional versus relational ways of organizing a culture. I definitely live in a transactional nation, the USA. That has also affected me in terms of how I relate. I too tend to be transactional.
For example, the idea that someone does something for me so I owe them to do something for them. The idea that I should be able to buy anything I want if I have the money for it. The idea that any relationship should be benefiting me as much as it is benefiting the other person. And so on.
I'd been thinking lately that I didn't want to be transactional anymore, nor live in a place where that is the norm for daily life. It came to me when I was doing a meditation on the Earth supporting us, and realized that the Earth wanted nothing in return. It just gives. It's not a transaction. It just love us.
Just as the sun shines on all of us without our having any ability to give it anything in return, wouldn't it be better if we humans were just as indiscriminately generous with ourselves?
But then another realization came to me...
The Land of Opportunity
The reason there is so much class mobility in the USA relative to many countries that I would describe as more relationally based is due to its transactional framework.
In a relational model, I do for you ONLY because you are a part of a close network or at least identity group that I see doing for me. I only give someone a job because they are connected to me, regardless of whether they could do the job. I only buy from shops of people I identify with. I may even actively work to prevent success among people I don't feel a relational connection to, so as to create more opportunity for those I do feel a relationship with.
This is the old way of the world. With my American upbringing I view this as unjust, primitive, counter-productively, and inefficient. It's a good way to lose any competition with nations not doing this, and also have lots of resentment and strife around you.
The USA is losing this, but it is still relatively a place where all money is green. There is no preference for the identity of who one buys from or sells to. There is a transactional relationship that makes everyone equal when they are being a consumer, and to some extent when being a producer.
This way of relating creates a more fair environment of opportunity for those with humble beginnings. This is good. However, it also means there is less emotional nourishment in our interactions.
When everything is a transaction, nothing is a gift.
But don't we shine the brightest when we are giving or receiving from the heart?
I know I do. I am happiest when relating to life, whether to people, animals, plants, anything. I may be able to enjoy the fruits of certain transactions, but it is more like the promise of fulfillment than fulfillment itself. Love being given and received is the fulfillment itself.
How Do We Get the Best of Both?
Maybe we can't really choose between transactional versus relational interaction. Perhaps we must have both, and the problem comes from trying to reduce life to only one.
Perhaps we need the open-mindedness of the transactional with the open-heartedness of the relational.
Or perhaps the issue is only that our way of being relational is too often distorted by prejudices and tribalism. We could be purely relational if not for that, so that every interaction would be deeply nourishing to all involved.
What do you think?
Can we thrive as a culture with only one or the other, and if so, which one?
(All text and images (except the AT logo) are by the author, unless otherwise credited. This is original content, created expressly for HIVE.)