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April 2, 1997

Takers, Traders, and Givers

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In economic terms, there are three roles any one of us might be playing at any particular time:
• takers—people who unfairly appropriate for themselves what belongs to others
• traders—people who exchange good or services for money or some other consideration
• givers—people who see a need in others and try to meet it from their own resources
I think we can all agree that being a taker is a bad thing. But here is what I have noticed. There isn’t a lot of in-your-face taking going on in our society. If we saw an obvious taker, we would want nothing to do with him or her. Or we might even blow the whistle on the thief.
I think, when it comes to generosity, there are a lot of traders at hand. Now, I am not referring to the honest exchange between two open-eyed parties bartering for something. I am talking about a devious, self-centered trader who is only trying to get something. It is the polished and skilled art of giving something (think a compliment) to you in order to get something from you. The motive and agenda is fully about me.
You see, we live in a transactional world: “I’ll do this for you if you’ll do that for me. And beware, if you haven’t done enough for me lately, then I’ll have to stop doing things for you.” There is an invisible seesaw of mutual benefit going up and down in every relationship. This happens in personal relationships. It gets pushed into business relationships too.
Some organizations are out for what’s in their own interest regardless of what it does to someone else. You could argue that this is what happens when Big Pharma markets life-saving drugs only in affluent nations, or when a corporation destroys irreplaceable natural resources to get low-cost raw materials, or when retailers gouge customers by raising prices during a crisis. This is the opposite of the business of generosity. It’s the business of selfishness.
That’s one of the things that gives cause marketing its bad taste. “Marketing by any other name is still marketing.”
When the better angels of our nature are in the ascendancy, transactions don’t have to be the basis of our relationships in the world. Generosity can become the basis of our influence.

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