Give, and you will receive

for it is in the giving that we receive
For it is in the giving that we receive
Spread a smile

 Give, and you will receive, says the golden rule of reciprocity.

The most impressive aspect of the Rule of reciprocity is the sense of obligation that goes along with it.

Rule of reciprocity 

If someone does us a favour, we should do them one in return, and people are aware of the honoured network of obligation since the dawn of humanity, that has served us so well, both individually and societally.

Simply put, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours!, Or as some social scientists suggest, it is akin to Newton’s third law of motion, that is applied to social sciences.

As per sociologists, there’s no human society that does not endorse and subscribe to this rule. 

Live up to the rule 

The culture of reciprocity is deeply rooted in our minds. A child as young as three years begins to comprehend the concept of birthday gifts and return gifts.

Psychology of indebtedness 

Almost everyone dislikes the feeling of being in debt to someone else. You might have experienced that unpleasantness which refuses to go away until the indebtedness is repaid.

Even something as small as the price of a drink can produce a sense of debt, which is more pronounced in an individualistic society.

I owe you nothing 

Internal discomfort and external shame of indebtedness can build a heavy psychological burden. I owe you nothing, is a liberating statement for many, and the same mentality would push people to pay even bigger favours in return to remove any traces of obligation.

Humble norms of sharing

Archeologists Richard Leaky ascribe the essence of what makes us humans to the reciprocity system.

We  are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honoured network of obligation.”

Survival as a species

Each learned social behaviour in the evolutionary history of humanity boils down to the adaptive mechanisms conceived for the species survival.

Web of indebtedness is a unique adaptive mechanism of human existence, allowing division of labour, the exchange of diverse forms of goods, and services. The same web tied down individuals into efficient functioning units.

An obligation for the times to come 

Reciprocity, with its inherent indebtedness, is a pact with the future. Future obligation made a difference in human social evolution. It meant that someone could give something to another with the confidence that it was not being lost.

Broad prospects of reciprocity

It lowered inhibitions against the transactions between individuals, societies and nations. It ensured a coordinated system of mutually providing resources, gifts, and trade across the borders.

Countries give aids and other means of assistance to other countries at times of crisis, and the moral code of obligation creates a beneficial reciprocal strategy for the times to come.

Defaulters looked down 

The individuals who violate the reciprocity rule by accepting without attempting to return the good acts of others are actively disliked and looked down upon by society. 

Social friction and isolation may result from such undesirable selfish behaviour.

One might very well recall that one friend from school or college days, who would religiously avoid the discomfort of sharing the bills and the nicknames they earned for such behaviours.

With the good comes the bad

Favour had a profound impact on how people responded, and its effects are overpowering. The powerful feeling of obligation induced in others can be effectively used as an agency of exploitation for profit and for obtaining compliance.

Device for gaining compliance

Most among us might have experienced the resentment of being compelled to commit a “Yes” response to a request based on existing indebtedness. The rule is powerful enough to alter a negative reaction to a positive reply.

Shift of power 

French anthropologist Marcel Mauss elaborates the social pressure surrounding the gift-giving process.

There is an obligation to give, a commitment to receive and an obligation to repay. The obligation to receive reduces our ability to choose whom we wish to be indebted and put the power in the hands of others.

In different forms, but with the same goal

For selfish motives, people often exploit the inherent offering facet of reciprocity.

People, we might ordinarily dislike or disagree or unwelcome, the likes of salespersons, disagreeable acquaintances, representatives of organisations that you don’t believe in, can increase the chance that we will do what they wish, merely by providing us with small favour before their request.

Free sample as a marketing tactic

Free sample invokes indebtedness

A free sample has a long and significant history. The beauty of a complimentary sample, however, is that it is also a gift, and as such, can engage the reciprocity rule.

The promoter who gives the complimentary sample can release the natural indebting force inherent in a gift while innocently appearing to have only the intention to inform.

Tool of influence 

Individuals and marketing experts competently understand the human propensity for reciprocity, so they spend a lot of time and money trying to engender a feeling of obligation in others.

Trying to influence those in office holding powerful positions, or any other influential persons with gifts and favours is a classic time tested psychological persuasion strategy. Gift push our reciprocal button and results are predictable.

Trick or treat 

It’s challenging to identify if an offer is honest or whether it is the initial step in exploitation. A device to trick is a different story, which should not be met with favours. Take time to identify situations where others are trying to manipulate you.

Prevent its activation 

The reciprocity rule is too widespread to escape and too strong to overpower once activated. Preventing its activation might be a good idea, or, if you are smart enough, try to exploit the exploitation attempts. They are easier said than done!

Reciprocity is the essence 

 Accept the fact that we are fallible humans and now and then we fall into the trap of exploitation knowingly or unknowingly. That should never stop you from giving, as the saying goes, For it is in the giving that we receive!

Sayeeda Pearl

Doctor by profession, Trivandrum medical college alumni, a passionate reader first, writing tidbits here and there on this and that. Sharing bits of life’s fascinating teachings that everyone encounters.

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