The Reciprocity Paradox
By Stephen L Doherty
July 23rd, 2023
“When a man is guided by the principles of reciprocity and consciousness,
he is not far from the moral law. Whatever you don’t wish for yourself don’t do unto others.” ~ Confucius
It was Monday morning, and I was making a beeline for my favorite barista in the lobby of my office building. I ordered my usual – coffee and croissant, when this young lady standing there waiting for her coffee blurted out, “Sir – I am buying your coffee and croissant today!”
I politely declined but she was not just insistent, she had an absolutely contagious ebullience and exuberance. It was one of those instances where a random act of kindness was not just unfolding – but the instigator was clearly enraptured from the kindness bomb she had unleashed. Her name was Katie.
As I awaited my “free” coffee and croissant, I gave a hug to my morning benefactor and struck up a conversation. Turns out she was an intern for an environmental legal firm in my building which meant that she was probably pretty tight on funds, making her gesture to me all the more meaningful. She was an absolutely beautiful and spirited budding professional just out of college and the moment inspired a spiritual indebtedness on my part that would give me days of thoughtful contemplation.
On the one hand, any good deed is deserving of reciprocity and a continuation of this kindness and goodwill exchange. On the other hand, random kindness is quite often its own reward and I wondered whether a like-kind gesture might be viewed as an obligatory repayment on my part and thus, maybe some diminishment of the sincerity of her gesture?
After all, the sheer pleasure of “giving” is normally the highest form of repayment one could envision. The pleasure this young lady clearly enjoyed by this random act of kindness was truly authentic and powerful.
In the end, I defaulted to reciprocity because, 1) It’s the way I was brought up. 2) Sometimes you just have to follow your heart in such matters, 3) There’s a measure of galactic karma balancing that never hurts being in the positive column. Besides, anyone who has ever studied basic math knows that two positives equal a positive. Nothing is absolute but the likelihood of something negative being created from two positives seemed well worth the gamble.
As I walked around the offices of Katie’s environmental law firm, carrying a big bouquet of flowers and seeking out my coffee and croissant benefactor – I knew I had made the right decision the minute I saw her see me and the gift I was carrying. Of course, she cried tears of happiness. People with hearts this big always do.
But I also know something from my years in business and in life. The power of kindness and recognition rolled into one gesture, is overwhelming and beautiful. She’d have been thrilled had I sent these flowers to her home. The fact that I delivered them to her desk, in person, created for her an incredible moment. She was in the spotlight. Her kindness had been rewarded. The rest of her day was going to be spectacular!
We must remember how to honor and respect life with each breath, step, word, and thought. What you bless blesses you in return. This is the power of reciprocity.” ~ Sandra Ingerman