The Ben Franklin Plan: Maintain an Even Exchange

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
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In honor of Ben Franklin who focused on one virtue a month each year (plus humility, which he worked on all year round on the advice of a detractor), I’m working on one life principle each week from Sunday to Saturday. Will you join me?

This week’s life principle is one that will stick with you all of your life if you grasp it initially.  The idea behind it is that relationships, friendships, or partnerships of any kind work best when there is an even exchange between the parties.  It doesn’t have to be the same thing exchanged, for instance a book for a book or taking turns doing the laundry.  But there does have to be a perception in both parties’ minds that they are getting something from the relationship and that something that they are getting is fairly equal in value.

The really weird thing about this principle is that the person who is getting more than their fair share is often, not always, but often, the one who ends up being the unhappiest in the relationship.  I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve seen it occur enough to speak with confidence that it happens quite frequently.  Perhaps it is because the wronged person has at least the “high ground” to fall back on.  The person who is not living up to their end of the bargain may not admit it, but at least on some level, they feel guilty.  And that never feels good.

So how about a concrete example?  Let’s say that you offer to drive your friend Betsey, who can’t drive because she broke her ankle, to the doctor a time or two.  Soon you realize you are not only taking Betsey to the doctor, but also the grocery store and her weekly poker party.  In fact, you have become Betsey’s cab driver.  Betsey is at first grateful and the trips are initially pleasant times between two good friends.  But you are beginning to resent that Betsey never offers to pitch in for gas, or bring you a special treat from the grocery store, or even invite you to sit in on the poker party.

You’re not happy.  But you notice Betsey isn’t so chipper herself.  Maybe she realizes that you are not as friendly as you had been and is bummed.  Maybe she can’t afford to reimburse you and lacks the imagination to think of something special she can do to repay you.  And she doesn’t know how to talk with you about it.  Maybe she is just getting tired of having to depend on you and anxious to be done with the broken ankle.

Here’s the problem, though, no matter what you or Betsey are feeling, if you don’t speak up in a kind, but firm manner and right the situation, it will go downhill from here.  You may lose the relationship altogether.

Aha!  You’re starting to recognize this kind of problem, aren’t you?

Realizing you have a simple problem of uneven exchange takes the situation from a personal and emotional one to a situation that can now be managed by re-establishing equity.  The question stays focused on: What could you two do to get back in exchange?  As opposed to: Why is Betsey, who used to be a good friend and a great person (or you would never have offered in the first place to drive her around, right?), turned into such a jerk?

Obviously this is a better place from which to arrive at a solution.  And that’s why this principle will keep you out of trouble more than any other!

Week 6:  Keep it even

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3 Responses to “The Ben Franklin Plan: Maintain an Even Exchange”

  1. Kat, Thanks for this post. It’s so important to keep relationships on an even keel. I’ve seen it happen and had it happen . . . exchanges that feel proportioned at first, but become off balance.
    My friend Sue taught me a great lesson. She says, “Always check your motives.” She’s right. If you are clear on your motives and expectations, the situation has less chance to get out of hand. Check your motives and it’s possible to see the problem coming and communicate your way back into balance. At least, that’s what works for me!

    Ginger B.

  2. Benjamin Franklin had a remarkable impact in so many ways, especially in his memorable aphorisms. A Benjamin Franklin article just received the ‘Top 100 Electricity Blogs’ Award

  3. Thanks! From Daylight Savings Time to the post office, Ben made quite a contribution to every aspect of our society. I hope you’re trying on some of the life principles. Let me know how it’s working for you…


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