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5 degrees of relating value (or what’s painfully missing in our political discourse)

1557 words


At any given moment we either focus on our own needs, or on the needs of another. Sometimes both, but usually one or the other.

When I focus on your needs and how I can help ease them, I am relating my value to you. We’ll call this positive value relating.

When I draw your focus on my needs and how you can help ease them, I am relating what value you can be to me. We’ll call this negative value relating.

This value relating slides along a continuum. When caught in an emergency we naturally slide left, toward relying on others for help. When at the top of our game we can slide right, toward serving the needs of others more than our own.

5 modes of value relating

It helps to be a little more specific, from negative to positive value relating.

1. Value taking. At the farthest left we focus almost exclusively on our own needs, with little if any respect for the needs of others.

We demand our rights. We shame others into doing our bidding. We manipulate with threats. We coerce others into emotional submission. Or we simply lay on a gurney severely injured, insisting we get emergency healthcare.

2. Value seeking. A step toward the right, we call attention to our needs while acknowledging others’ right to either answer or ignore us.

We ask for help. We appeal to others aid when unable to fully provide for ourselves. We knock on the door of their sympathies. We may wish to provide something in return but at the moment feel too empty handed.

3. Value trading. At midpoint we give equal attention to their need and our own.

We horse trade. We negotiate. We pursue balance, perhaps seeking a fair deal. We may even allow time for the other to return something of roughly equal value, investing one of our most valuable commodities: our trust.

4. Value offering. Next in line, we provide more attention to the needs of others than attention to our own.

We propose what we can do for another. We suggest our help, implying it comes at no immediate cost. A price may be implied for later. But we don’t require any upfront reciprocation.

5. Value giving. Finally, we serve the needs of others without any direct returns.

Our reward may simply be the joy in meaningfully helping another human being. There could be a risk of paternalism, hindering others’ need to freely provide for themselves. Sometimes we just want to pay it forward.

Now let’s take a closer look into each one.

1. Value taking

Think of demanding attention to what you desperately need right now. You can’t wait for niceties of negotiation. You’re in pain, distressed enough to reach out and grab something for immediate relief.

You can afford little if any attention for how others can properly respond to your need. You only know you must have it now. Wait too long and you may suffer more harm. Or so it seems.

This urgency may actually prove false. You may simply react out of fear. Experience prompts you to focus on your own needs at the exclusion of all else. Others tend to become objects for your relief.

Value taking says, “My needs feel more important than your needs right now, so I don’t even recognize your needs at this moment.” The value is directed inward, not outward. “I cannot relate at all to your needs right now, as my focus pulls me to obsess over my own desperate needs.”

We can see such value taking in our polarized politics. “Check your privilege” from voices on the Left. “Just follow all the cop’s orders” on the Right.

Sometimes this value taking is all we have. You may prefer traumatized minorities calling out microaggressions than reacting with the violence they endured. You may prefer traditional Americans trusting cops than trusting to take matters into their own armed hands.

2. Value seeking

Think of requiring something others have, costing you more than what you can offer in return. You ask others, knowing painfully well their answer could be ‘No.”

You know it’s right to reciprocate, but can’t right now. You lack the upper hand to negotiate, ready to accept whatever gets offered. Maybe all you can do is appeal to their generosity, their humanity.

You feel vulnerable. If asked improperly, your appeals risk pushing away the very ones you desperately need. Your conscious of how their needs could impact their respect for yours.

Value seeking says, “I have needs that require some attention, and if left unmet they may keep me from focusing on your needs.” Value takes a step outward, recognizing other’s value who could rightly withhold what you request. “I respect your needs but find it difficult to respond properly to them while preoccupied with mine.”

We see value seeking as basic to our politics. “Please respect our equal rights” on the Left. “Please respect our Constitutional freedom to bear arms” on the Right.

Sometimes this value seeking is all we have. Even traditional Americans can find themselves in a political minority, appealing to the sympathies of liberals to guard individual rights.

3. Value trading

Think of balancing between what you receive and what you give. You want to be generous, but within your sustainable means. You’re receptive to other’s generosity, but prefer avoiding future obligations.

Interactions can turn transactional. This for that. Quid pro quo. Both can freely go their own way after the exchange. No tying down on either side with awkward expectations.

Attention to needs can freely shift to either side. You can freely offer to help another, while respecting their hesitation can mirror yours in that same situation.

Value trading says, “My needs are met enough to see your needs and suggest how I may help you relieve your needs. I see you have a need and want to understand your need better in balance with my own needs.”

We can see value seeking in our congressional politics. “I won’t vote against your bill if I can get our support on my bill” from the Left and Right. We see less of this horse trading in our current climate of elite polarization.

Sometimes this value trading is all we have. Once upon a time, Congress passed laws by making sure everyone on board got a piece of the legislated pie. Polarization has burnt the pies.

4. Value offering

Think of responding to the need of another, even if they cannot immediately reciprocate. Perhaps the offer anticipates a future return on investment (ROI). The item of value is not yet received, as the offer has yet to be accepted.

Businesses often rely on inbound marketing to win over customers. They offer something for free to build customer relationships. Lead magnets like a free eBook constitute a value offering.

Freebies often cost the recipient’s email address, for later promotions. Conditions for accepting these offers typically get weighed, and sometimes rejected.

Value offering says, “My needs are met enough to focus on what I can do for your needs. I want to relate better to your needs and see if or how I can help relieve them out of the resources of my own met needs.”

We rarely see value offering in our politics. “There’s no free lunch.” The growing offer settles for agree-to-disagree, and then remain mutually distant.

Sometimes this value offering is all we have to reach out to those without the means to pay in kind. We may find more of it outside of our politics.

5. Value giving

Think of providing for the needs of others without them ever asking. Such as a charity preparing meals for the homeless. Or a spouse spontaneously buying a gift for their partner, purely out of love.

As mentioned earlier, value giving can reek of paternalism. As recipients grow dependent upon such largess they can become vulnerable to the will of the providers. No matter how benevolent the providers see themselves.

Unconditional giving sounds positive on the surface, and truly unconditional giving can be. But its dark side emerges when the giving fails empower the recipients to soon provide for themselves.

Value giving says, “My needs are met enough to focus on what I am doing for your needs. I can freely relate to your needs and understand how best to help you continue relieving them while attending responsibly to my own needs.”

If we find any value giving in our politics, we can easily grow suspicious of its paternalistic tendencies. Political hostilities seem to be mutually exclusive with unconditional giving.

However, in an emergency we find such value giving indispensable. We typically expect at least humility and gratitude when others bail us out. Which is one reason why banker elites’ behavior after our 2008 bailout became so impolitic. But I digress, a little.

At Value Relating, we guide one another down an agreeable path toward value parity. We pivot away from the bitter extremes, to shift toward the value each can provide for the situation.

We aim to replace demanding with offering. We anticipate trading more equitably, and potentially more equally. Everyone has value. The more we affirm each other’s value, we hope, the further we shall all move beyond polarization. One value affirming step at a time.

BIONOTE: Steph created an eCourse for unpacking political polarization. This value relating continuum provides just one tool for better understanding politics, and its tendencies for hostilities. The course provides many more.

Steph is a self-described transspirit, which is a kind of sacred misfit. By transcending conventional limits—gender norms, religious identities, political polarities, and more—Steph experiences a unique connection in life. And suspects others do as well. This blog shares that spirituality, and affirms others of a similar state of being.

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