22 October 2007

The value of relationships

I live in an apartment building of sixteen flats. My neighbours don’t seem to be very friendly. I’ve wished them on several occasions, but they’ve never wished back. I’ve opened the gate for their cars a couple of times when the security guy was not around and I was passing by, but they’ve never thanked me. Once when there was an electric power problem in the building, I came home at night to find that no one had bothered to switch on my ‘mains’ connection while they all enjoyed full electricity in their flats.

Gauging my neighbours’ response and rudeness as, perhaps, a big-city Mumbai syndrome, I’ve kept more or less to myself. So, imagine my surprise yesterday, when a neighbour of mine approached me out of the blue and asked me for a favour. Apparently, a wedding was soon to take place in her family and the neighbour wanted to shift some for her furniture to my flat, temporarily, for a week. She said, “Since you’re single, living alone, you’re bound to have extra space in your flat.”

In seconds, a montage of her husband ignoring my ‘good mornings’, her son not thanking me for opening the gate for his car on a rainy night, and her shutting the door on my face when I requested for help during the electric power problem danced through my mind. I replied, politely, that I had no space to accommodate her furniture in my flat. She got up and left, commenting that this was a dastardly (as I looked like a nice person) and a very un-neighbourly behaviour. She said, “Neighbours are expected to be nice to each other.”

In life, as it is in business, we often expect a return from others (our family, friends, colleagues and customers – not to mention neighbours) without, first, building a relationship with them. We handle our lives, our work and our businesses, one transaction at a time… without a sense of a rapport, a bond, a continuity. We expect others to accommodate us simply because we need something, right then and there. We, what we want, what we have to say, what we have to sell is all that matters.

The trouble with a transaction-based life, or business for that matter, is that we treat them in isolation. And, in the process, we consider others’ position, feelings and the need for affiliation irrelevant. The value of a transaction is not determined by itself, in isolation, but by what comes before and after it. It is determined by the relationship that governs and guides it.

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