Bartering is a very personal business as opposed to how we shop today. Modern shopping is impersonal at best and mechanical at worst. Sure, in most stores you can find someone to help out if you have a question, though you generally get the response of, I don’t work this section. Let me find you someone who does. Passing the buck is easy in the large stores of today. Even once you’ve found what you’re looking for, in many cases those same companies then expect you to check yourself out! Bartering is far more personal.
In bartering, you’re dealing face to face with the individual that has what you need or what they think you need because you have what they need. Lopsided trades will be widespread, either going for or against you. You may find yourself trading away something of more perceived value than the item you’re trading for simply because you really need it.
In the first edition on bartering, we discussed the perception of value and how it is relative and fluid depending on the situation at hand. One behavior we will all need to consider is the tendency to push our luck. For example, I have a bottle of antibiotics, and Bill’s little boy is sick. Bill knows I have them, I’ve traded them before, and he’s seen it. So, he comes to me tells me about his sick son and how they really need some medicine for the child.
Bill has brought his best trade goods. Those things he’d held back for that, just in case, moment. He’s desperate, and I know it, I’ve got him over a barrel. Here is where extreme caution comes into play. If I push Bill too far, demanding excessive trade goods in exchange for what could potentially be lifesaving medicine for his child, I could push him over the edge.
At best, Bill would probably hate me, use some colorful language towards me, and tell everyone he sees what a low-down snake I was in his ultimate time of need. Or it could get worse, and a fight breaks out as Bill feels insulted that I’m trying to take advantage of him. No one wins here as one, or both of us will probably end up injured. Worse yet, Bill could decide the life of his son is worth far more than my own (a position everyone will take) and may try to kill me and take what he needs.
Worse yet, if pushed too far, Bill may make the trade. He feels insulted and taken advantage of. After all, he told me his son was sick and what kind of person takes advantage of a sick child? Bill may stew on this for a while and then decide to do something about it, and one night he shows up at my house and when the dust settles maybe my wife or one of my kids is dead or wounded. Or even myself – leaving my family alone.
The key thing to remember when bartering is to treat folks the way you would want to be treated. Yes, we’ve all heard this a million times, and in polite society, it doesn’t really mean much. But when you’re operating in a world without the rule of law, things change. Simply insulting someone during a trade could turn into a violent encounter. Under such circumstances, gunplay is the last thing you want to happen.
Let’s go back to the settlers for a minute. When those brave people set out, they had only themselves to rely on. They banded together for safety and to share resources. They had honor, integrity, and loyalty to those that demonstrated the same. When these things were called into question, violence was usually the outcome. Standing at the local trading post and announcing that Bill is a cheat to all in earshot is a sure way to start a fight.
There’s another less obvious but far more impactful way you could be affected by someone who feels cheated at your expense. Those same settlers did it, and it was common practice even when small towns were founded. If you develop a habit of lopsided trades or taking advantage of people, you could find yourself ostracized by the community at large. Meaning no one will trade with you. They may not even speak to you, and you’ll be sure they will not come to your aid should the need arise.
The best way to prevent all of this is to be fair. If one of your neighbors is in real need and you can help, even if it’s at a loss to yourself, do so. Empathy is a compassion that will be in short supply when people are desperate. Being so can aid you in forging alliances that will pay dividends over time. Just be careful, you also do not want to be the one known for being easily manipulated or taken advantage of.
Just as you don’t want to be the one known for taking advantage of folks, you don’t want to be known as the pushover either. When it’s you on the short end of a bad trade, you’ll have to stand your ground. Weakness will be a disease you will want to keep away from your household and community. Be kind, be fair, but be firm.