Oma lehmä on ojassa – cows and vested interests?

The Twin Cities area is enduring a nearly record-breaking wet June. Areas in outstate Minnesota that were in moderate drought earlier this year are now lake front properties. The wet weather combined with an unusually huge mosquito hatching has curtailed outdoor activities, but allowed me to do some overdue de-cluttering.

During my reorganizing, I found another intriguing Finnish translation Lucy kept. Linus Torvalds, the Finnish inventor of the Linux operating system, used the phrase “oma lehma ojassa” during an interview, which he said derives from “oma lehmä on ojassa“. The literal translation for the former phrase is “vested interests”; the latter phrase means “your cow is in the ditch”. The Finns have a great sense of humor and there are two explanations for the phrase. The first explanation is that pasture land is at a premium in Finland so having a cow in the ditch means getting a little free feed along with providing a public service by keeping the grass short enough to not obstruct visibility. The downside is a cow in the ditch likely becomes a cow on the road, and a cow on the road does not move swiftly away from an oncoming vehicle. Cows definitely share that trait with deer. The other explanation is that a cow sometimes broke through a fence and ended up in the ditch, oftentimes with water and deep mud in it. Once in the ditch, the cow could not climb back up to the pasture. The cow’s owner would require help getting the bovine out of the ditch and back to the pasture, so it was in the farmer’s best interest to persuade neighbors to help.

Having a vested interest in a transaction or an outcome is not the same as a “quid pro quo” (from Latin meaning “this for that”) interest because one party does not expect something in return of the other party. For example, a corporation may sponsor a non-controversial charity event. The charity directly benefits from the sponsorship resources and the corporation indirectly benefits from positive public relations. A quid pro quo interest is a Political Action Committee (PAC) pouring money into a political candidate’s campaign. The campaign benefits from the cash infusions for ads but the candidate is now expected to something in return for the PAC.

Many of the online Facebook games reward players if the player has a large number of “friends”. This basis for this type of vested interest relationship is mutual need and in some cases, the player gets scammed by a new-found “friend”. Relationships based on need disintegrate quickly after satisfying the need. Other online games promote a quid pro quo relationship with Facebook gaming “friends”. The player performs tasks or challenges for another player and hopes the other player reciprocates. A quid pro quo relationship usually dissolves because one party perceives the other party as not reciprocating in kind, of being all take and no give.

Friendship in the purest sense of the word is not a vested interest or a quid pro quo arrangement. Its foundation is altruism and its floor is trust. True friends do favors without regard to payback, they trust each other unconditionally. No one carries a ledger book for tracking favor costs and no one is worrying about leaked secrets or damaging lies. It does not start out with a “you must trust me, but I don’t trust you” paradigm or with a combative disrespectful stance. Most of us have a great number of acquaintances and a small number of true friends. The true friends are worth cherishing.

Let your close friends know that you appreciate them and that your life is better because of them. They don’t expect anything in return but would appreciate the sentiment. Give your special someone a meaningful hug or three. Hugs are free and always brighten someone’s day. As for vested interests, the proverbial “cow in the ditch”, save the livestock wrangling for an online farming game and minimize it in your life.

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