Transaction: An exchange or an interaction between two or more things or entities. It’s a communicative action involving two or more units that reciprocally affect or influence each other.
Examples: Paying back a friend who covered our dinner when we were short on cash, scheduling a meeting on someone’s calendar and them accepting, saying hello to a neighbor and getting a smile in return, negotiating a business deal.
1. Transaction has a broader definition than simply buying and selling. Our lives are dominated by convenient acts of buying and selling, appropriately called transactions, so we may forget that these acts represent a subset of the exchanges humans conduct daily. Transaction is an exchange, an interaction. We transact not only as consumers but also as friends, parents and collaborators.
2. Transactions require trust. Throughout human history, we transacted with those that we had (varying degrees of) relationships with. Transactions were simply one part or the last mile, so to speak, of an ongoing engagement.
3. It’s only in the recent past that we’ve been able to transact “facelessly” with another. As more and more of the world opens up to us (more people, more internet-enabled tools, more geographies), we’ve leaned into the comfort of anonymity, distance, and low commitment. We exchange ideas, conversations and goods without any of the relational tethering that transactions and exchanges were historically built upon.
Relation: An existing connection or a significant association between two or more entities or objects.
Relational: The way in which these entities or objects are connected. Anything that is connected will have a cause and effect relationship. Push or pull on one object and you’ll create a reverberation within other related objects.
Examples: Collection of related data in a database; relationship between fertilizer, soil, and plant; our relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.
4. In every transaction, we look for markers of trust while interacting. Reviews, photos, fidelity of those reviews, public upvotes etc. Even when our tools our designed for the last mile of the engagement, i.e. the transactional part, we look for markers that are typically revealed over the course of a relationship.
5. Our businesses, tools and even societies are mostly designed for the last mile transaction, not the upstream relationship. Our workplaces, healthcare systems, communal areas, shopping, dating, communications – everything – is geared for convenience and efficiency so we can cram in even more transactions into our lives. Be productive, do more, be more.
6. We thrive when transactions nest within a genuine relationship. We crave to know another and to be known by them, to offer our best and be valued for it. This is only possible if we shift our paradigm from seeing people and places as a means to an end to valuing connection as a fundamental end in itself.
Sustainable: Being able to maintain something at a certain rate or level over a period of time. Sustainable implies continuity for a long period of time.
7. Continued thriving in the long-term (i.e. the definition of sustainable), is possible only if we create relational societies, products, services, and mindsets. We can’t sustain joy, contentment and hope by endlessly taking and moving on. An overly transactional life weighs on our psyche. Thriving depends on nesting transactions back under their larger relational contexts, it depends on expanding our perspective to see human and environmental interconnectedness. In the absence of this, it’s easy to keep harming and depleting ourselves and our commons.
The gold-standard in business is to make our lives frictionless, so we can fit even more transactional handshakes in our cramped life, displacing the time we need to create relationships. So we get more and more seamless handshakes with more and more faceless and bodiless entities. Neighbors, coworkers, friends, all reduced to profile pictures, interests and demographic markers to ease the transaction. What nurtures us for the long-haul are the acts of being in relationship, not the endless transactions. We forget that we crave not just the hand but the whole body.
“I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I will give myself to it.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Austrian poet and novelist.