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Deals And Exchanges

23 September 2009 3 Comments

What happened to altruism and generosity? The sheer pleasure of giving without any expectation of getting something in return.

Oh Ian! You’re so naive!” the cynic may cry and then quote some well worn epithet:

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours


There’s no such thing as a free lunch

Well, I think it’s sad!

I noticed it very clearly yesterday evening. I went with Elena, my daughter (6), to a restaurant to meet some friends for a few hours. I was watching how easily Elena made contact with people. I think by the end of the evening she knew all the staff in the restaurant, to the point she was helping one of the waitresses serve the tables. I found it wonderful seeing her proudly take bread baskets to the customers.

Then on the way home, as we waited at the bus stop, she befriended a middle aged lady. I’m not quite sure how she did it but by the time we’d got off (coincidentally at the same stop) she’d recounted her life story to the obviously enraptured lady.

None of this was in any way exceptional to my little one, just another day out meeting people and sharing a few important stories from her life. There was no hint of a suggestion that she might want something in exchange other than the pleasure she got from smiling, chatting and helping.

It’s natural – not learned.

I’m such a proud father!

I’d like to take credit that it’s how I’ve raised her but I honestly think it’s natural. In the innocence of childhood we are not suspicious of others and wondering what they want from us. We’re not scared to smile freely and give of ourselves with no expectation of getting something back.

As children grow up they learn to behave differently. And where do they learn that?

It is us adults that teach our children to be suspicious, to negotiate for things, to do deals and to withhold themselves. It is us adults that have a hard time making effortless connection with people we meet day to day. It is us adults that transform the perfectly natural and innocent approach of our children into something more selfish and based on a mentality of scarcity.

It’s all about exchange

We’ve become so used to turning everything into an exchange we’ve forgotten the sheer pleasure of just giving without any expectation of something in return. Even as something as simple as a smile or eye contact is a free gift – yet we expect something in return.

Consider this. If you are walking down the street and a stranger approaches you or maybe just smiles at you, what’s the first thought that enters your head?

If you’re like me it’s probably something like “What do they want?

If I turn that around, that’s precisely the same reaction I’d expect from you if I was the stranger walking towards you and smiling. I don’t like it but that thought is so deeply engrained it’s hard to remove.

Over the last couple of years I try an experiment from time to time. I make the small step of making eye contact as I go about my daily business. With shop assistants, people on the bus, walking down the street or in a café.

Try it yourself sometime.

It’s very revealing as it’s almost impossible to get eye contact with someone. Everyone goes about with their heads down and their hearts sleeping. I thought maybe it was just me. Perhaps I look a bit creepy (I don’t think so but I can never be sure) and it’s only me that people avoid. But it’s not. Everyone goes about their day to day stuff avoiding most kind of contact other the unavoidable.

And I still think it’s sad.

I don’t want my children to grow up that way.

A final thought.

After I die, will I be remembered more for what I took from the world or for what I gave to the world?


  • Flip said:

    It’s posts like this that make surfing so much plarsuee

  • http://www./ said:

    Eleonore! Vad glad jag blir. Har läst dig sedan Ytligheter-tiden och tyckte du förändrades lite sen du började på Modette. Det bästa med din blogg i början var att du inte använde ett svårt eller tufft språk, du var varm och enkel.. ser fram emot att få tillbaka den gamla dig!

  • kumon discounts said:

    Stephanie Elizabeth Smith / JESUS JESUS JESUS JESUS! QUICK! Arrest me – I just offended somebody somewhere! Absolutely fricking ridiculous that everyone except Christians have freedom of speech…..

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