Early on November 26, 2012, NPR presented a story about the rules of reciprocation. In the story, NPR correspondent Alix Spiegel discussed the rule of reciprocation and provided specific examples. Basically, the rule of reciprocation is one of those unspoken social rules that most people follow. It says that if someone gives you something, you should give them something in return. In the words of Robert Cialdini, one of the interviewees for the story, the rule of reciprocation is “Essentially thou shall not take without giving in return.
As I read through the story and thought about the examples—saying hello to people, tipping, address labels in exchange for donations, et cetera—I thought about how great this social rule is. I mean, it clearly comes from the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. With the rule of reciprocation, though, it is not just treating others, it is giving. This rule results in people receiving something they need or want. That is good.
I believe in giving to others when we can. The rule of reciprocation says that the desire to give in return for receiving is something drilled into us from early stages of learning. I can’t help but smile at this.
Giving of time, money, food, and other goods are the best presents we can give. When people need something, we should help them. I do not mean that we should enable bad behavior; rather, I mean that we need to contribute to each other. For most people, this means that when they can, they will contribute back. This can only create bonds and relationships. And if these bonds and relationships are built on mutual love and respect as well as support (financial or otherwise), then giving can only be positive.
What is further great about the rule of reciprocation is that giving is sometimes as simple as smiling back at someone. In most cases, the rule of reciprocation takes place with an exchange of material items such as address labels for a charitable donation. But giving can be anything, and that is amazing.
Of course, like with everything, there are negative outcomes possible, too. Some people will take advantage, will manipulate, will lie. But most people will not. When I pass someone in the hall and say hi, they usually say hi back. This makes us both feel good and recognized. When we donate toys to less fortunate children at Christmas time, those families remember that kindness. Some day those children will grow and carry that tradition on. When we give money to research organizations like St. Jude because they sent us $0.09 address labels, we contribute to finding cures for cancer. All of this is good.
That good is what we have to focus on. We cannot obsess over those individuals who manipulate, lie, and take advantage. We must focus on the bonds we create by helping each other. Together. That’s what giving is all about—living together.
Though we are in the Christmas shopping season, and everyone is thinking about the gifts they need to buy for their family and friends, perhaps we should also take the time to give to others, to strangers who might need a little bit of love. We give presents to show love, right? Well, shouldn’t we try to love strangers, too? I’m not saying that we should give to strangers over giving to our kin, but we should not forget the less fortunate.
Most communities have charity programs. In mine, we have something called Christmas Angels, where people can “adopt” local children whose families need help this season. Some of these children are in foster care while others just have families who live well below the poverty line. I support these children and give to this program.
This time of year, medical research organizations reach out, too. Instead of buying something that your family members don’t need, you could donate in their name. You could also just donate in addition to buying gifts for family and friends. Whatever your pet cause is, I can almost guarantee they need donations. This is another way I give back to my world.
As NPR reported additionally, charitable groups are trying to start a new holiday tradition in addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday called Giving Tuesday. The idea is simple; after all the shopping for Christmas presents, now give to charities. This might be a great opportunity to start that rule of reciprocation and give. Help celebrate Giving Tuesday as a new tradition, and help others.
Maybe the best way to give is to just donate to bell ringers or to people you know who need help. Giving is not about recognition. Giving is about connecting, about binding to each other, about helping. This season, don’t wait for the rule of reciprocation. This year, think about giving just for the sake of helping.
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