Ethic of Reciprocity

April 15, 2012

Definition of “ethic”:

1:  the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation

2a : a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values
b:  plural but sing or plural in constr : the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group
c : a guiding philosophy
d : a consciousness of moral importance

Definition of “reciprocity”:

1: the quality or state of being reciprocal : mutual dependence, action, or influence

2: a mutual exchange of privileges; specifically : a recognition by one of two countries or institutions of the validity of licenses or privileges granted by the other

You may know the Ethic of Reciprocity as The Golden Rule: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.

This concept can be found many disciplines: psychology, philosophy, sociology, religion, and more.  Psychologically it means empathizing with others. Philosophically it requires a person perceiving their neighbor as also “an I” or “self.”  Sociologically, this principle is applicable between individuals, between groups, and between individuals and groups. And of course, it is an integral part of religion.

While the religious connection is important and unavoidable, I really am more concerned with how we can live on a daily basis with the basic concept of the Golden Rule in order to live up to our potential.

The Golden Rule requires us to practice empathy:

Definition of EMPATHY: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.

It is a proactive directive: As Dr. Frank Crane put it, “The Golden Rule is of no use to you whatsoever unless you realize that it’s your move!”

And for me, that goes hand in hand with Gandhi’s famous quote:

The Golden Rule is beautifully simple. By following the Golden Rule I find there is a tendency to make the people I have interactions with, happier. There is a noticeable side effect in that I feel happier too: treat others as you want to be treated. So simple.

You may find more satisfaction in yourself, a greater belief in yourself, a knowledge that you are a good person and a new trust in yourself. These are huge benefits! And the results are felt immediately!

Start today, even if it is one step at a time.

My father used to always say:”Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” We call it empathy. Try it with any person: someone you love, someone you are angry at, the person on the street corner, the tired waitress. Really try to understand what it is like to be them, what they are going through, and why they do what they do.
Practice compassion. Feel what they’re going through, learn to want to end their suffering. And when you can, take even a small action to somehow ease their suffering in some way.  So when you put yourself in their shoes, ask yourself how you think they want to be treated. Ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you were in their situation.
Be friendly. We are so conditioned these days to be wary of strangers; “Stranger Danger”. It’s usually safe to say “hello”, or “Thank you”, or add “Have a nice day.”  Who doesn’t like to feel welcome and wanted?
Be helpful. Is this currently a weaknesses in our society? Seems like it sometimes. In general there is a tendency to keep ourselves. It is easy to turn a blind eye when we are deep in concentration on our cell phone, or have our eyes closed listening to our ipod. ” Don’t be blind to the needs and troubles of others. Look to help even before you’re asked.”
Listen to people. We all want to talk, but very few of us want to listen. And yet, we all want to be listened to. So take the time to actually listen to another person, rather than just wait your turn to talk.
Overcome prejudice. We all have our prejudices. But try to see each person as an individual human being, with different backgrounds and needs and dreams. Discover what is the same between “you” and “them”.
Stop criticizing. We all do it. We do it to people we know, people we don’t know…. learn to interact with others in a positive way, without using criticism as a thread for discussion or gossip.

Rise above retaliation. Often our instinct is to strike back when we’re treated badly. This is natural. Resist that urge.  We are trying to remember to treat others well, despite how they treat you. You do not have to suffer in doing this. You can take action in ways that are not retaliatory.

Let the change Gandhi spoke about begin with you. Practice the Ethic of Reciprocity and see first hand how those changes come to life. Live up to your potential of being a kind, compassionate, empathetic person, and see how others begin to see you differently and treat you with a new respect.

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