“Reciprocity is a deep instinct; it is the basic currency of social life.” Jonathan Haidt
Linda: Altruism (in Dictionary.com) is defined as the principle or practice of concern for, or devotion to, the welfare of others. The impulse of altruism and the behavior of reciprocity is a set of cooperative, life-enhancing activities that move a relationship into the zone of well-being. If we are not already strong in the area of feelings of altruism, or the behaviors of reciprocity, these are attitudes and actions that can be cultivated with commitment and intention.
It is reassuring to know that we are the state-of-the-art edition of the human species, that has evolved to the place where we are wired emotionally to care for others and to want to return a favor for a favor. It’s a very simple rule. The impulse for reciprocity expands when we feel given to, and it diminishes if we feel the other person is stealing by taking more than their fair share. When the system goes out of balance, then the gains of well-being that come with reciprocity plummet.
There are social “accounts receivable,” and for the huge benefit available from the rule of reciprocity, general fairness must prevail. When we cooperate and become generous, we are wise to also watch for where we are over-giving. For if the relationship becomes unbalanced, we can end up feeling exploited and resentful, which is not conducive to a strong bond.
When a couple is not thriving, they may not have identified that their reciprocity dynamic is the cause of their discontent. In any given couple, the will be one partner who may lean more towards generosity and altruism, and the other more toward self-centeredness and greed. The challenge for both partners is to move towards fairness. It may be more obvious that the partner on the taker end of the spectrum needs to become more generous; and that is true. But the couple is a system, and both partners contribute to the well-being or the lack of thereof. What may not be so obvious, much more subtle and harder to detect, is there is a partner who keeps the lower-level system in place with their indulgence of the other partner’s self-centeredness.
People can fall anywhere on the continuum with desperate at the far end of the spectrum, characterized by “I will do anything to keep this relationship” to the other far end complete with a cold, rejecting exploitation characterized by “I’ll take everything you’re willing to give, but don’t expect much from me in return.” It’s obvious how dysfunctional such an extreme relationship clearly is and how they are on the track to failure.
Most of us are not out at the extreme poles, but those who enjoy the best partnerships hit the sweet spot in the center where they both freely give and receive a great deal. To reach an optimum level of abundance and well-being, both partners are required to play their parts, with the more withdrawn, passive partner speaking up for what they want. Instead of being a pushover, the reticent partner can become more assertive and become a good player. Instead of being a selfish taker, the other partner can intentionally cultivate altruism and generosity to become a good player.
Confucius calls reciprocity “the magic wand” which can clear your way through the complexity that relationships can often be. Reciprocity strengthens the bond. It rejuvenates a bond that may have been stretched, stressed, or that has gone flat. Reciprocity allows us to feel united in a pleasurable way, safe, connected, secure, and at ease. It may be a piece of work to attain the balance point of extreme abundance and the feeling of fullness that comes with it. But once we attain it, we know we have the magic wand working its wonders for us.