Trading Down

When I was a kid, I made one of the worst trades of my life.  I had this awesome book about monsters that I absolutely loved.  Dragons, goblins and minotaurs rampaged from cover to cover wreaking havoc at every turn.   I spent hours pouring over the illustrations and memorizing the descriptions so I that I would be fully equipped should I ever have to bring the smack down on one these hideous beasts.   Seriously, if a minotaur got in our house, who else was going to deal with it?

I had a friend I’ll call Jim who also loved monsters.  Jim actually had a collection of metal figurines of monsters that he’d painted himself.  Sometimes we’d hang out at recess, check out my book and play with his monster figures.  I thought these figures were way cooler than any book, and apparently, he thought my book was far superior to his monsters. 

So Jim proposed we trade.  I couldn’t believe my luck that he was so dumb.  I knew the toys had to be worth a lot more than the book, and c’mon, they were monster figures.  You could actually do something with them, move them around and send them out to destroy Lego villages. 

We made the switch at recess, and by the time I’d made it home, I had it worked out in my head how I would create the ultimate monster lair out of old cardboard boxes.  Who needs a stupid book?

When I got home, I showed my parents my brilliant acquisition thinking they would be impressed with my shrewd negotiating skills.  They looked at me like I’d just traded the family cow for some magic beans.  They knew how much I loved that book and how fickle I could be.  I didn’t care.  It was monster time!

I spent hours building the most incredible monster lair you could imagine.  Finally my new friends had a home where they could hatch their fiendish plots and be promptly destroyed by a GI Joe strike force.   Once I’d built the lair, though, and killed all the monsters, I was kind of done. 

It took about an hour before I wanted my book back.  What was I thinking?  That was my monster book I gave away!  I might as well have given Jim a kidney.  Sitting there surrounded by these crummy monster toys I realized that I had a made a serious error in judgment. 

But how in the world would I ever get my book back?  Jim had clearly outmaneuvered me.  He knew how lame his toys were and had pretended that they were fun at recess just to get to me to fall for his devious scheme.

My parents told me just to go ask for it back, but I knew that was too risky, too honest.  I only had one shot.  If he said no, I’d never see that book again.  No, I’d have to lie.  I’d have to trick Jim into giving it back somehow.  So I came up with an elaborate plot to recover the book.  It was like Ocean’s Eleven without casinos.

The next day I played it cool and acted like I was totally thrilled with the deal.  I casually mentioned that I’d like to look at something in the book, some obscure monster fact I couldn’t remember, and asked Jim to bring it the next day.  Sure enough, the next day, here came Jim with my book tucked safely under his arm.  My heart skipped just seeing it again.

I couldn’t believe my luck.  He actually handed it over to me, handed it over!   Once I was safely on the bus, I gave the metal figures to a mutual friend who would act as a courier to deliver them back to good old Jim.  I’m not sure if I actually kissed the book when I got it home, but I sure felt like it. It had all gone according to plan. 

The only problem was that now Jim wanted to kill me.  I somehow managed to avoid him at school but had the bad fortune to run into him at a carnival a few weeks later.  He cornered me with a friend of his and threatened to beat me up. 

I was a little scared, but honestly, I thought he was going to cry because he was so worked up.  His voice got really high and squeaky.  “I can’t believe you lied to me,” he said.  “I thought we were friends.  Don’t ever talk to me again.” 

It would have been better if he’d punched me.  Instead I just went home feeling like a royal jerk.  I wish I could say I wrote a note of apology and gave it to him with the book.  I wish I could say we went on to become great friends again, but that would be as big a lie as I had told Jim.

When I traded my book for the monster figures, I thought it was the worst trade of my life, but what I’ve come to realize is that in the end I had traded away something much more valuable, Jim’s trust and friendship.  Any time we trade relationship for selfish gain, we always lose. 

Jesus said that there’s no greater love than laying your life down for your friends.  That doesn’t just happen when you throw yourself on a grenade to save your platoon, but also in a hundred little choices every day.   Every time I lay down what I want for the good of someone else, I demonstrate love and build trust and relationship.  Every time I throw someone I love under the bus, I tear all of that down.

No doubt about it, trading relationship for selfishness is the worst trade of all time.  Jim, if you’re out there, I’m really sorry.  I’ve since lost that monster book, but now I know that the day I traded away our friendship, I lost a whole lot more.

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