Fair Exchange – What on Earth Does It Mean?

Amongst conscious business owners there’s a concept of fair exchange. It means that if you don’t trade for money you still need to make a balanced exchange with the client if you provide them with some product or service.

In part this is to protect very kind (or confused) people from giving too much without being paid for it. It’s also supposed to ensure that the client gets better results, because of the investment (and therefore commitment) they are making.

I’ve been pondering this for years and have experimented with it in many ways. Here are some of the variations.

  • I’ve given extensive services free of charge and some of my best clients never paid a single cent, over many months. By “best clients” I mean they got fantastic results, were a delight to work with and we have remained in contact ever since with no trace of unfairness or resentment.

  • I’ve also been on the receiving end of great generosity from others, who’ve gone out of their way to help me with some part of my business.

  • I’ve given free service to people who didn’t appreciate it too, but they usually dropped away pretty quickly, which was fine. It didn’t matter at all.

  • I’ve been paid for many months of service where the client never turned up. They didn’t want a refund, because they wanted to work with me. It seems they made the investment but simply couldn’t get the commitment together to show up. Perhaps they will one day.

  • I’ve created “fair exchanges” where I supplied my service to a client and they supplied me with their service to a more or less equal value – barter style.

  • I’ve created “fair exchanges” where I supplied my service to someone, we agreed an exchange and they never fulfilled their side of the bargain, or they just did a bit of it. It hasn’t damaged the relationship, they got great results – but I might not choose them if I wanted to hire someone.

  • I’ve allowed people to pay by donation, sometimes tiny amounts, and they’ve got great results and been highly committed, or sometimes not. Some of them are now friends as well.

So it raises the question of what a fair exchange is. The concept suggests that there’s an intrinsic price or value on a service or product that is easy to agree. But the reality is that the value is agreed between the two parties to the exchange. It will depend on what I’m willing to sell for and what you’re willing to pay for it. So it’s only fair as far as the two of us agree with each other. Whether that’s really fair or not, I don’t know.

So let’s take it a little further. I spent the last few days in Bali at a conference which was all about giving. It was run by B1G1 (Buy 1 Give 1), a wonderful organisation that enables conscious (and semi-conscious) businesses to make a difference by giving money to highly worthy causes, and embedding giving into their daily business activities.

One woman spoke for 3 minutes at the beginning of one of our sessions. She described a 12 year old girl in Cambodia who had been taken into the sex trade. She was criticised by one of her “clients” for not smiling while she was being raped. As a punishment she was put in a coffin for two days, which was full of ants (I can’t remember the type of ants, but they clearly bite). After that she made sure she always smiled.

I was so shocked by this story that I went up to the speaker afterwards. Nicky Mih runs the charity, Free to Shine, that prevents girls from being trafficked by supporting them to go to school. She told me that because she only had 3 minutes she had to choose one of the less disturbing stories. This has haunted me ever since.

So we come back to fair exchange. Clearly, although there is exchange at an agreed price, there is no fairness in that girl’s particular trade. And if we give money to a charity there is no exchange also, unless we’re able to look beyond our own benefit and see ourselves as part of the human race. Then we can understand that when we give to another human being, we are giving to our entirety. We are benefiting the wellbeing of all of us.

Is that a fair exchange? I don’t know how to measure it. It might be that we gain far more than we are giving, as it ripples out across the world and ultimately back to us from all corners.

My understanding is that when we give, we receive. We may take it as cash, there and then, or we may decide that cash is not important. There’s no value judgement here. There’s nothing wrong or right about receiving money. It’s simply one option. Cash is a way of receiving something else (maybe food, a home, clothing, entertainment, education).

If we receive nothing in the moment, we will receive later. Maybe we’ll find a good partner, experience a serendipitous moment or receive someone else’s generosity when we really need it.

In fact you could say that we receive anyway, whether we give or not. We have been born on a planet of great abundance. We were given life, bodies, minds, resources, a community and unlimited opportunity.

But when we give consciously, whether in exchange for money, service or nothing, we get to experience the joy of generosity. And that is where the fair exchange truly shows up. When you experience joy you know the abundance of life. You live it. You see it all around you, And inevitably you’re aware of just how much you’re receiving every day. You live a life of receiving – or is it giving?

It’s definitely worth checking out B1G1 if you run a business and would like to give more back. It makes it simple and joyful to give. I’d be happy to give you a skype introduction to show you how it works and answer questions. Just email me if you’re interested. By the way, I’m just doing this because I’m a member and I love what they do – and I’m full of enthusiasm after a few days hanging out with other members.

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