I was thinking about the meaning of the word reciprocity tonight. I don’t know where this train of thought came from, but it’s definitely got me thinking. It’s pronounced re-sə-ˈprä-s(ə-)tē, or reh-si-pra-si-tee. It’s a fun word to say, after you get the hang of it.
The phrase “one good deed deserves another” would be one of the simplest definitions of reciprocity. It is the feeling of obligation calling for future acts of kindness. Christians would maybe use Hebrews 10:24 as a definition; “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,”, as this definitely stirs things up. In Japan the word for thank you, "sumimasen," actually means "this will not end", and in Bulgarian the word for thank you is "Благо-даря" (blago-dariya), which means "Good I'll Give”. Reciprocity is not just doing good deeds, it is the expectation that others will do good if you do good to them.
Reciprocity is considered a social psychology topic, which amuses me. Many studies have been done on how good deeds affect others and the potential outcomes, one of which I want to share with you*. Quite often the resulting behaviour from the first party being “deeded” significantly outweighs the first “deed”. For example, an offered glass of soda or coffee to a client usually results in a purchase that costs more than the original drink. This results in an exponential outcome, deeds growing as they pass through each person.
Imagine how this could be utilized by a whole society to improve other’s lives, and affect your own life even more. Now, of course there would always be the occasional breaks in the chain, the bad seed that doesn’t pass on the good, or the grumpy old fart that won’t share a smile, but in theory — enough good deeds would eventually outweigh the bad seeds anyways. You could (in my little world) behave kind enough all day long, to be able to affect maybe 10 people around you, and assuming that 75 per cent of people will continue the obligation, and then the next round of people continue the 75 per cent good, you could maybe affect the outcome of 400+ people per day. What a fabulous return on investment!
I remember watching a movie a few years ago, on a somewhat similar topic. A school child created a chain of events based on good deeds for total strangers that eventually grew to historical proportions, circling the globe and returning threefold to the child. What an amazing storyline it was.
There is another meaning for the word though, one that has defined all the good right out of it. A legal definition would be “a mutual exchange of privileges between states, nations, businesses or individuals.” What privileges would we honestly share between states or nations that would benefit us more than if the definition above were used. Could we create a viable business model based on non-monetary good deeds between businesses, rather than goods and services? Unheard of. Could we satisfy our need to do good around us, by cooperating with another state to deliver a fugitive? Somewhat, but I don’t get that warm fuzzy feeling about that.
We should be living the first definition of reciprocity. It would be a fabulous social experiment to attempt to plant that unconscious obligation of doing good into other people all day long. Maybe I’ll make a point to have a Reciprocity Week doing whatever I can to spread that feeling of obligation to do good.
** Regan, R. T. (1971). "Effects of a favor and liking on compliance". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology