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Opinion and Editorial

To move forward in life, learn to give back

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra
Filed on August 29, 2020

When we allow people in who do not add to our life in anyway, or simply take without giving back, we are susceptible to stagnation, burnout

In social psychology, reciprocity is a social rule that says people ought to repay, in kind, what another person has provided for them; that is, people give back (reciprocate) the kind of treatment they have received from another. By virtue of the rule of reciprocity, people are obligated to repay favours, gifts, invitations, etc. in the future. If someone receives a gift for their birthday, a reciprocal expectation may influence them to do the same on the gift-giver's birthday. This sense of future obligation associated with reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and exchanges. Reciprocal actions of this nature are important to social psychology as they can help explain the maintenance of social norms.

The importance of reciprocal relationships
While most of us would agree on the importance of reciprocal relationships, we don't consciously think about this idea of reciprocity when it comes to friendships and long-term relationships. Reciprocity is a mutual exchange of actions, goods, energy, time, emotion, etc. between two people. Reciprocity is similar to a game of tennis or ping pong. There's a rhythm or a flow of a back and forth exchange. When someone reciprocates our efforts, it can leave us feeling validated in our choices and friendship, energised to keep going in this friendship or relationship and give more, and leaves us with this overall sense that we are valued and appreciated. Meaningful friendships and relationships require investment, and reciprocity can be the gauge of whether or not the investment is worth it. Reciprocity cannot be measured in all relationships, for example a parent/child relationship. There is nothing reciprocal about being a parent. You love your child unconditionally often expecting and receiving nothing in return. Assessing reciprocity is not about 'tit for tat', it is about taking an honest look at the dynamics in your relationships and assessing the investment on each side. 
Your time is valuable, and so is what you bring to your relationships. It's okay to be selective in how and who you spend your time with. Who is worth your time? Who is worth investing in? Not every relationship will be worth it, and not every relationship is meant to last forever. Certain relationships are meant to fill a specific purpose and time in your life. 
We all need people in our life who contribute to our growth in some way. Whether it's simply by being support in a time of need, or someone who challenges us to expand our way of thinking, regardless of what it is, it's important and healthy to have people around you that help you thrive and grow. When we allow people in who do not add to our life in anyway, or simply take without giving back, we are susceptible to stagnation, burnout, or even a poor sense of self. To really take inventory of the quality of your relationships with the goal of eliminating any non-reciprocal or toxic relations, means we value ourselves enough to believe we deserve better, we deserve to be treated the way we treat others.
Reciprocity is a central concept in much of international relations, particularly international law. The idea that states should respond to one another in kind is deeply ingrained in how we think about international politics, on topics from the use of force to trade liberalisation. Empirical work has shown broad patterns of reciprocity in state interactions. Agreements to cooperate are generally believed to be enforced by threats of reciprocal retaliation against defections from the agreement. International institutions, including international law, are believed to aid in reciprocal enforcement in a variety of ways.
In a wider sense, for years we have used, misused, abused and exploited our natural resources. And now that we are seeing the hazards of it, be it in the form of global warming or deforestation, there is an urgency to make things right. There is a panic to undo the harm we have caused. We have to reciprocate for all of nature's bounty bestowed on us for centuries. That is the law of nature. Nothing is meant to be a one way street. So well said by Oprah Winfrey- Life is a reciprocal exchange. To move forward, you have to give back.

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra is a legal consultant based in Dubai and the founder of Legal Connect

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