You’re exceedingly polite,
And I think it only right
To return the compliment.
(W. S. Gilbert)

DAILY LIFE OFTEN INVOLVES THE MAKING OF EXCHANGES. One person gives us something, and we give them something else. Or perhaps we initiate the transaction, and the other person responds. Either way, a good bit of what we do on an average day consists of exchanging things we have for other things that somebody else has. It is all, as we sometimes say, a matter of “give and take.”

A fair exchange is one in which the value of what is given is commensurate with the value of the thing received. For example, you may have paid money for this book. If it delivers to you something as valuable as the money you gave up, then you’d have to say that a fair and honorable transaction has taken place. There’s nothing dishonorable about the publisher asking for money in exchange for the book — if the value delivered is worth the value received.

We ought to avoid unfair exchanges, even when the other person is willing to be treated unfairly. Suppose, for example, a man visits a prostitute and pays her a large sum of money for her sexual favors. Is that fair? No, most people would say that what she gave was worth far more than what she received, no matter how much money changed hands. In almost every culture, there is the principle that sexual intimacy is of such value that the only thing it can be fairly exchanged for is a solemn vow of marriage, made in good faith by the other party. If the prostitute received anything less, then she was cheated, and the fact that she was willing to be cheated only makes the matter worse.

The highest and best exchange that can take place, of course, is the exchange of hearts. The fair exchange of one heart for another is a beautiful, and transforming, experience. Whether in love or in friendship, no gift is greater to give than one’s open, authentic heart — and no gift is greater to receive in return. Heart for heart. Value for value. Such is the stuff of which real and wonderful life is made.

My true friend hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one for the other given:
And I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven.
(Sir Philip Sidney)

Gary Henry — +

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