Let’s talk about transactional relationships. I looked up the meaning of the word transaction and found there are two definitions. One has to do with buying or selling. It is a business deal we’re all familiar with, an exchange of some sort. Another is an exchange or interaction between two people.
Many relationships are transactional in nature. Did you ever notice that the quickest way to get what we want from our spouse or children is to make a deal? If you do this, then I will do that. Well, I always do this for you, so why don’t you do it for me?
We’re creating a market with an exchange rate, where one acts only if something is received in return. As someone once told me when I asked for a favor: I’ll do it because I know one day I will need (here he was pretty explicit) and I want you to be there for me. I’m not sure he realized it, but what he was saying is he’s not really doing me a favor, he’s doing himself a favor.
It is remarkable how well bright kids, in particular, comprehend this process. Sometimes they understand us better than we understand ourselves because we would hate to view our intentions in this light. So the wagers are continually increased. When the child is young we tell them, if you listen, I’ll give you candy. As they get older and a little bit smarter, they realize that in order for them to follow directions, we offer retributions transactionally. They begin to demand more. Now we’re stuck. We don’t know of any other way of influencing our children, so the stakes become higher and higher.
In our modern world of affluence, once you reimburse your kid with a trip to Disney World at the age of six, there isn’t much more to trade with them. We teach them well. Eventually, children learn, anything we want them to do, they can get paid for. What we end up producing in such an environment of transactional relationships is a very selfish child. In an adult relationship, we have two very self-oriented, selfish people. The bottom line is what am I getting out of this? You have to offer something, for me to give in return.
We end up stripping ourselves of all influence on the other person. We have no impact. That individual is only compelled by what I’m putting forth. He or she will never do anything for me. It’s only the payment I’m extending that matters. As a result, transaction discourages having a real relationship.
Whereas, with an approach that’s just a little different, we would actually be strengthening our bond. We could wait for the other person to do something for us and then honor it. We’d even be giving the exact same prize, but now it’s no longer a payment. With children, in particular, rewarding is wonderful. Making a transaction, on the other hand, is extremely damaging.
How often is it that someone will say to their spouse: why should I when you never? That is a person who is transactionally oriented. They’ll only respond to your request if you act in return. That’s what we call a cold, business mindset.
True relationships are about being unconditional, and transactions create distance in them. Transactions also mean we carry no weight.
This is a fact in leadership with our children, and interactions with everyone, friends and spouses alike. Sadly, the reality is that a devastating amount of people only have transactional relationships in their lives. When we’re brought up in such an environment, that’s all we know and that’s all we model. That is the only way of moving through life and getting what we want that we recognize.
Incredibly, as this is the only exchange we are familiar with, we project it on G-d. Then Torah can easily be read as G-d having a transactional relationship with us. That’s how we understand it. If you do this, then I’m going to follow up with that.
Thus, there are many people who go through life believing that G-d plays a transactional game with us. In my humble opinion, this is very damaging in our connection to G-d, because this image is just not true. If you do this, I’ll do that. So every time we do something wrong, we are scared. Is G-d going to do something to us? Or we do something right, and we think, G-d, here you go, I expect something in return.
The reality is that G-d has a loving relationship with us. G-d is not petty. G-d is an infinite being.
A transaction, in some respects, is petty. Yet G-d is not here to force us into doing anything. G-d, in fact, wants the opposite. He gives us free choice so we could make the right decision on our own. He does say though that in all aspects of life there are consequences. And this is what we should teach our children. I’m sure we don’t need to enlighten our better halves. By now they usually know this.
So, yes, there are consequences. However, we don’t need to create a transaction out of them. When we live in harmony with the way the Creator intended for us and for the universe to function, that naturally opens a pathway for blessings. Yet when we plug those passages, there are repercussions, just as there would be with clogged arteries. G-d is not saying if this is what you do, then that’s how I’m going to respond. It’s not a cat and mouse game.
Indeed, there are many Rabbis who like to instill the fear of the Lord in people. That is their way of motivating a congregation. What they are teaching is unhealthy, because they are interpreting it as transactional, rather than real, relationship. It’s literally just taking an external element, which is either reward or punishment, and using that as an incentive to get someone to do what’s asked. But the person is not really doing it for you. They are not really doing it for G-d in such an instance.
We have to know unequivocally that G-d loves us. Being loving parents, we make sure our children understand there are consequences. As G-d cares about us, he would like for us to grasp it as well. He wants us to see: this is what’s going to happen as an effect of our actions. He shares this information with us because He loves us. It would be very hard to imagine an infinite G-d retaliating.
This plays on all levels of interactions. When we are living transactionally, we’re not relating to people, but rather to things. Moving outside of the transactional relationship means respecting, developing a rapport with, and demonstrating true love to the other person. Those are the building blocks for the different, transformational type of a bond. In it, we suddenly find that we have influence and can change our relationship completely.