Breaking the Values Equilibrium: Unsustainable Relationships

In Nature, the Principle of Exchange – give and take – operates everywhere, all of the time. Leaves convert light from the sun into energy. Leaves take light and give energy. Energy nourishes animals, people, and life. Energy now gives and life takes. Leaves fall and become compost for a whole host of life. The tree gives and the soil takes.

And on it goes.

The Principle of Exchange is critical to any successful relationship.

Typical examples where this principle is not working;

“Why don’t you ever help me around the house?”

“I seem to do everything around here!”

“I do all the work, and he gets all the accolades!”

“I seem to attract relationships where I get to work hard, make all the money, and my partner hangs out having a good time, living off my work!”

Bring the Principle of Exchange into your communication as a daily habit, and life is sweeter.

When the Principle of Exchange works well with people, all parties feel valued. No one thinks they are giving more, working harder, spending more time, or not being appreciated. As a result, the relationships are void of any form of resentment.

To understand the Principle of Exchange, we must first be mindful of dynamic equilibrium.

Equilibrium occurs when all acting influences are cancelled by others, resulting in a stable, balanced system. Equilibrium is not inactivity, but rather dynamic balance.

Nature exhibits a dynamic drive towards equilibrium. For example, if you enter a warm room in winter, allowing some of the outside cold air in as you enter, that cold air will quickly equalise to a mean temperature rather than stay as a pocket of cold air.

Similarly, we seek a dynamic equilibrium in our work and life by exchanging value.

Value, however, is not a constant, changing with context.

Our traditional currency measuring value is money. I buy a loaf of bread and will pay anywhere from a few dollars to $9 plus. If I am starving, and there is only one loaf to be had, I could spend more for it and still consider that I have been receiving fair value for my money/exchange. The Principle of Exchange applies.

There are many other forms of currency and exchange. For example, I may have lots of time. Time, therefore, has less value to me. On the other hand, you are really busy and have little available time. Thus, time becomes of high value to you, for which you will willingly pay a premium for others to do what you have no time to do.

Or, I may get my vital emotional needs met by caring for someone or people. For example, the caretaker role could allow me to feel loved, needed or essential. Therefore I spend time willingly as a caretaker, receiving my value exchange in the process.

You may be a creative, and love to work with people on new ideas. Time spent in this domain, not part of your paid work, could nourish your soul and give you such value that you are happy to do this for no fee or a small fee.

However, in a whole system, if the value equilibrium is broken, if the forces of give and take are not balanced within a boundary of arbitrary measured time, then a situation occurs where there is an experience on one or both sides of the values exchange where there is more give, less take, or more take, less give.

This situation is unsustainable in the long term, both at the micro level, which occurs between two or more people and at the macro level, which we face in almost all of our current global crises. For example, as a human race, we have been taking far more value from the Earth and Nature than we have been giving back. If we did the all-in-accounting cost, which includes the cost for Earth and Nature to make the rock, the chemical, the oil, the fossil, the stone, the tree, the water, the animals – and also included the post-use cost – the waste, recycling, breakdown of plastics over hundreds of years or more – then the majority of human enterprises would be unable to exist at all if we are using our current monetary, economic and profit based metrics.

A true all-in-accounting measure would make almost every business on earth unprofitable.

For this article, we shall look at this through the lens of two people. If one person becomes aware that their value exchange is no longer in place, they will experience resentment. Initially, this is a mild form of resentment. However, as the situation continues, the resentment will build and potentially become explosive/destructive. The Principle of Exchange is broken.

A simple example: I give my time in a work situation for which I am paid an agreed salary. However, my manager keeps asking me to do more and more tasks and take on more responsibilities without any salary increase. For some people, this situation would be acceptable. They may be getting their needs met – needs to feel important, contribute, and be a vital team player. However, another person with a high need for family and home life will quickly experience a loss of equilibrium and start to feel resentment on an escalating scale.

As leaders and managers, we must understand this Principle of Exchange and constantly monitor its status. Any resentment towards the company or the manager is likely a red flag that the Principle of Exchange needs to be restored to equilibrium. This would require a conversation.

In a Syntropic Enterprise, using the agreement for all enterprise participants to practise Clean Communication ensures that the people constantly manage the dynamic equilibrium of exchange, removing the need for the manager or leader to do so.

As business owners and people in relationships with other people, we must understand the Principle of Exchange and apply it, regularly monitoring the values equilibrium of the people around us. Is resentment present? If so, the values equilibrium may be out of whack.

In our relationships at Syntropic World, we work consciously to ensure that the values equilibrium is maintained and the Principle of Exchange is healthy. We do this by introducing the conversation in unambiguous terms at the front end of the relationship, ensuring that each party is clear on their role, what is expected of them, and their nominated value exchange.

We do this in 12 domains, as part of Synergistic Accounting. We also request that if the other parties ever feel like the values exchange is moving out of equilibrium, they speak up.

This doesn’t mean we take our eye off the ball and step over any sign of resentment. As a team, we will regularly revisit the values exchange conversation to ensure all parties are within dynamic equilibrium. This is a critical key. Many people have this conversation at the beginning of a relationship and then fail to revisit it regularly enough.

Often people are happy to be overly generous at the start of a relationship. Still, if they do not get some form of exchange, such as respect, acknowledgement, payment, or genuine appreciation, they will begin to feel resentment at some point.

Unfortunately, our society has slipped into ever-increasing levels of entitlement. The ~I deserve~ society. Or, ~I am owed~. Or, pure and simple, ~give me!~. Unfortunately, this approach is a “dis-ease” state, breaking the natural law of dynamic equilibrium, where the equation is strongly pitched to the take side, with almost complete neglect of the give side.

Many people who naturally gravitate to the work of Syntropic World are givers. (Are you a giver?) You give until you are a husk of yourself. You probably know the feeling of being exploited.

To be a giver without applying the Principle of Exchange debases the exquisite value that you are. It is also a violation of dynamic equilibrium – a violation of the dance of equilibrium that is Nature’s Law. If you are working for a world with a future for Earth and all her creatures, and you cannot recognise your value, nor ask for a clear receipt of the appropriate exchange, then you are working against the very change you seek to make.

To break this cycle of either too much giving or too much taking a Steward Leader would:

Step 1. Clean up your act and get back into values equilibrium.

What am I giving?

How much am I giving? This question must cover all of the following domains:

  • Giving stuff, matter, and atoms.
  • Giving money, credit, and tokens.
  • Giving knowledge.
  • Giving skills and tools.
  • Giving emotionally and spiritually.
  • Giving from the reservoir of your own vitality and well-being.

What value am I adding? (Whether it be as a taxpayer, a volunteer, a conscious recycler, an activist, a philanthropist, a mentor, teacher, coach, or lover.) Consider the same domains listed above.

What do I believe I deserve in return for my giving and why (in the same domains listed above)? Is it my entitlement speaking, or my true value? (Your true value is an internal recognition that is without ego. You will know if it is ego when there is any form of demanding energy, righteousness, or arrogance. True value is humility and acceptance. It does not need to make noise or tell anyone.)

Where am I taking? Consider the same domains listed above.

Where am I getting my energy for my taking? Am I an energy vampire, sucking energy by being an endless victim needing help, wallowing in my own powerlessness or illness? Do I get an energy hit when I feel I have won over someone – beaten them? When I am right, special, better than, or have greater endurance? Do I get my energy hit from righteous indignation? (I know that one well!) If you can, be rigorously honest in answering these questions.

Step 2. Coach, teach and train others around you to be clear about their own Principle of Exchange.

A really powerful tool to do this is to understand how to manage expectations. See this article.

Are you able to meet their expectations or not? You may need to negotiate. Far better to negotiate this at the front end.

How would they know they had experienced a win for them? What would they have, or be, or know, or be able to do if their expectations have been exceeded?

What would zero exploitation look like? Feel like? At every level – the personal, the team, the enterprise, the community, the customers, the suppliers?

One of the most beautiful elements of the Principle of Exchange as a lived activity in any enterprise, family, community or partnership is that it keeps us in a conversation about value. About what matters.

We can all learn to be better at having these types of conversations.

In Syntropic World, one element of our Pattern Integrity is an aspiration for zero exploitation. We care that no one feels exploited. We care that we do not exploit Nature. This requires a constant inquiry and conversation.

For more resources on the Principle of Exchange, please check out:


The Trust Manifesto for Syntropic Enterprise.

And join us for either the Syntropic Enterprise Masterclass (the next one commences in mid-May)

or a future Synergistic Accounting Workshop.

First published in 2009, and republished in 2022. But worth reading again. What do you think?