The Agony of Reciprocity,

I enjoy helping people, but I get really uncomfortable when it comes to asking help.
This is not an acknowledgement as you do during a job-interview: “Sometimes I am too disciplined”. Or the “It is a problem, I am often too honest”. This is not a personal shortcoming served with a smile of proudness. I simply feel the agony of reciprocity.

Reciprocity is social norm to return favor’s. It is a social norm, in that people frown upon those who fail to return favors. The reciprocity norm has been raved as an important part in humans’ succes on this planet. Reciprocity is the motor behind cooperation. Who want’s to help others when that time can be spend on the survival of yourself and your kin. However with reciprocity, you can expect future help when you are in need. Given that working together is often more effective than working alone, this deal serves all. This net of help and obligation, has allowed the devision of labor, and is the cornerstone for our markets of trade (see Cialdini, 2013, Leakey & Lewin, 1979)

Reciprocity uses our social connection, but it also strengthens them. The “owing a favor”, creates future in a relationship. So reciprocity supports friendships, and got us from that cave to the comfortable office I am now sitting in. What is not to love?

Well, reciprocity is a social norm that is internalized for most. This means we don’t require the disapproval of others to keep us on track. No, we can do that on our own, with that wonderful feeling of guilt (Burger et al., 2009). When someone gave you a carrot peeler or maybe lent you a hand sorting your Pokemon cards, that sparks the want to repay. The “want” turns into quilt soon, when you can’t find a way or time to repay. That feeling of guilt keeps me up at night. I have slept through the environmental crisis, the war in Ukraine, but it is the carrot peeler that is keeping me up. That is not okay.

My knowledge on the topic does not help. Typically the feelings of guilt of the recipient will reduce over time (Burger et al., 1997). Not for me, as I know that the felt disapproval for not repaying grows for the giver (Flynn, 2003, Goldstein, 2008). To avoid burnouts, I try to navigate life without relying too much on the help of others. Again this is not a good thing. People value the things they have put some effort in, the same might hold for relationships. Not relying on others might diminish the quality of your relationships. Ironically that is sometime the goal of refraining from help, rather than an unwanted side effect. This does not apply to friends and family, I am not a complete hermit, but to some acquaintances. When accepting help from let’s call him Bob, I can already see the birthday invites dropping on the doormat. Followed by the excuse I have to make, because time is scarce. Followed by time spend with quilt rather than at the party. It’s again the agony of reciprocity

– Cialdini, R. B. (2013). _Influence: Pearson New International Edition: Science and Practice_ (5th ed.).
– Leakey, R. E., & Lewin, R. (1979). _People of the lake: Man ; his origins, nature and future_. Collins.
– Burger, J. M., Sanchez, J., Imberi, J. E., & Grande, L. R. (2009). The norm of reciprocity as an internalized social norm: Returning favors even when no one finds out. _Social Influence_, _4_(1), 11–17.
– Burger, J. M., Horita, M., Kinoshita, L., Roberts, K., & Vera, C. (1997). Effects on Time on the Norm of Reciprocity. _Basic and Applied Social Psychology_, _19_(1), 91–100.
– Flynn, F. J. (2003). What have you done for me lately? Temporal adjustments to favor evaluations. _Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes_, _91_(1), 38–50.
– Goldstein, N. J. (2008). _What Happens to the Value of Favors Over Time? | Psychology Today_. from