What Is Genuine Reciprocity?

“Reciprocal” is possible only when we realize what has been given to us, and we can bring that realization into a greater and greater exercise of appreciation into our lives.  When we do that, being increasingly generous is the natural outcome.

Giving out of our means isn’t just about giving from the surplus in our lives, whether that is money, goods, time, or self.

Giving from our means is an expression of giving from what sustains us to what has sustained us and enabled us to live fuller lives.

Giving back is essential to getting. Those who simply “take” never really get the message.

You have surely heard it said that there are takers and givers, or that the world could be divided into those who take and those who give.  We have all known takers, and they are usually aware only of their own needs and they usually live with a certain kind of narrowness.  They just seem not to get it. At any rate, they seem not to get the whole picture.

Takers just seem to be myopic.  There seems to be something missing from their apprehension of the world.  Perhaps it is not that they don’t want to give, or think that they really have so much, as it is that it just doesn’t seem to occur to them, not just to give from more than their surplus, but to give from their means.

And here is the rub of this notion of reciprocity. Many think they are reciprocal just by being their narrow selves, and others are too reciprocal for the wrong reason.  For sure, there are those who are takers, but it cannot be denied that there are givers who give for the wrong reasons or who give too much in the wrong places.

These givers do so to please others, or out of obligation or to be liked, perhaps even to be thought generous. These givers are certainly better than the takers for they are, but they are just not living the fullness and freedom of genuine reciprocity. They seem to miss the joy.

So we are noticing here two groups. There are those to whom it does not occur to be reciprocal.   Then there are those who give but are not reciprocal because their giving does not represent a capacity to give from the “heart” or the desire to do so.  There is not real reciprocity.

They cannot recognize what they have received and give freely and generously in response from that freedom, but rather from a sense of inner obligation rooted in other motives. Both represent blocks to giving and both reflect blocks to wholeness and the flow of reciprocity.

Growing positivity will be at odds with both of these tendencies because they do not fit into any group of a person’s strengths, because strengths are values laden.

How we are attached or how we “attach” is at the heart of this.  We are wired for reciprocity very early on, as we are wired for attachment to the world around us.

You might say that we are conditioned to be truly reciprocal from the earliest implicit memories (before our recall of memories was actually formed) and from explicit memories that we can recall.  All of this has “conditioned in” what we attach to and how we do it.  It is these patterns of attachment that will affect our reciprocity and, for sure, our means and our surplus.

© Dr. William K. Larkin

About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Echo Macdonald

    I remember the joy I used to have as a child playing on the see-saw with friends. My best friend would join me in giggling as we took turns rising up and down. Sometimes we would move our bodies closer or farther from the hand grips to temporarily suspend each other high in the air so we could each enjoy being up high. Sometimes I would get on the see-saw with other friends who were not as kind and would leave me suspended up high with no recourse but to wait until they were tired of hearing me ask to be let back down. Relationships seem like that. There’s a natural flow to a healthy relationship of seeing yourself in the other and wanting to bring as much joy to the other as you enjoy yourself. I see this as a natural form of reciprocity. When we don’t “see” ourselves in others or are uncomfortable in what we see inside, we may have a tendency to use others in order to bolster our sense of discontent or helplessness. If I am happy with myself and in an Upspiral, I lack the need to be maniplative or power-seeking in relationships. I am free to freely give from the abundance in my heart.

  • Dr. gloria wright

    I had an interesting observation recently about my own generosity. I hired someone to bake me a delicious carrot cake with cream cheese icing for my birthday. I took it to my Sr bridge group to share and told them that needed enough left for my birthday on Thursday. So I took the last ¼ to the kitchen and put it back in the box. They went into the kitchen and ate almost all the rest…. I was so stunned.

    What? Does my generosity have a quota or something? Did I graciously want to share ¾ of my cake but no more? I was truly amused and confused by my own reaction. After laughing at myself and coming back to my wits (and my generous self), I decided to serve the one piece left with ice cream on one plate to my four guests. That’ll create a funny birthday memory. Gotta go with the flow or we’ll never be happy or generous.

    And for generosity to have genuine reciprocity, it has to be genuine from the get go. I’m Co-Chair of the Care Committee of my church. When I visited with people for various reasons, I soon learned that I felt uplifted when I left. I left them with a smile, but I had one too. It’s when people really receive what we give that it’s reciprocal too. For people it’s easier to give than it is to receive. But remember, it’s like giving a gift to the giver when you really receive. Having someone truly enjoy a meal that you’ve fixed brings joy to both generous parties.

    I agree with Dr. Larkin that we have to get outside ourselves to tune into generosity. I think generosity at the heart is in the connection and in the engagement. I have often said that I miss loving as much as I miss being loved. I love fixing your favorite meal, buying your special milk and fresh eggs, and taking hikes in the woods. It’s easy to be generous when it’s reciprocated! And as my daddy would say, “Vicey, Versy.”

  • Eddy Macdonald

    I’ve noticed in myself a link between what I feel I have an abundance or lack of, and what I am generous with. If I feel I have a abundance of time, I am more generous with it. If I feel I have enough extra money in the bank, I am more generous with it. The opposite is also true. Interestingly, t seems to have more to do with a feeling or perception than necessarily with quantifiable reality. If I FEEL I have more than enough, I am generous. These feelings reinforce beliefs of and about abundance. When I am living in this place, I have found that I can’t out-give God. How often I forget this though, or rationalize, or make excuses when I’m not feeling the abundance.

  • Sheila

    Yet again, I read this blog and feel as if it is speaking directly to me. Although, I know this is a universal truth for many people.

    The parallels for my life at this moment, are uncanny.

    I have always considered myself to be a very generous person and indeed I have noticed that I actively look for that quality in others.

    Where does this generosity stem from? Certainly, growing up in an Irish, Catholic household there was always this sense of showing the face of generosity to the outside world. Many people see the Irish as very easy going, generous with their wallets, their humor and their parties. Yet behind closed doors, this is not always the reality. I learned from a young age that there’s the face you show the world and then something else, hidden and not quite as altruistic. It’s great to be generous, but, is there a hidden price to pay?

    In terms of “givers” and “takers’ I am a giver. I like to give, it feels good, it feels right, but, why then can it, also, on occasion, feel so empty? To truly give with a free heart is to be “free”, but somehow, somewhere in the midst of it all, I seem to have set some expectations around what I am hoping for in return. Or, perhaps, I have not really ever truly considered where this need to give truly stems from…..wanting to be liked? wanting to be popular? needing to fix people, or, things….?

    Some things are easy and I don’t give it a second thought, but, where I get into trouble is when I give, but I am secretly looking for payback in some form and when it does not come, or, people take, but offer nothing in return and then I feel resentful. That resentment builds into a crescendo that traps me in the downspiral. So, what started out as something good, making me feel happy and in the upspiral, often ends up having the opposite effect.

    Or, I give, because deep down, I want people to like me, but I give more than I have to offer and go beyond my means, more re overcommitting myself to things/people/projects that I don’t have bandwidth for and then I end up exhausted and yep, again resentful.

    As a problem solver and a ‘fixer” for other people, I recognise that I often offer myself as the solution, which may/may not help them, but definitely does not help me.

    Like the scenario about being on an aeroplane that is going down, the rule is to take oxygen first for yourself, to then, in turn be able to help others. Some of my ‘giving” has been non congruent and patently not working for me, so, having made this connection, I have to grow new neural pathways, to keep me in the up spiral, which in the end will be yes, a benefit for everyone, but, really and most, most, essentially, me.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute