Reciprocity – the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit - is widely recognised as an important feature of successful co-operation but how does reciprocity between ordinary people actually work?
Mary hits Joan. Joan is angry so she hits Mary back – repaying her in kind.
An eye for an eye.
Tit for tat.
Positive and negative, it’s a if there is a hidden balance that must constantly be maintained. Impulses like revenge solve nothing of course but this striving for reciprocity appears to be deeply rooted within us. It’s naturally occurring and is neither good nor bad in itself – only in its application.
If we look at our instincts as tools to help us survive and develop, rather than tie ourselves up in knots either suppressing or exalting these naturally occurring impulses, then maybe it might be easier to use them properly.
Instincts are simultaneously wonderful and problematic – like any tool. Even a humble hammer is all about application – it is enormously useful and – literally – constructive, if you want to hang a picture or build a cabinet or a wall but in other circumstances it can also be used to destroy or kill.
The solution is not to get rid of hammers but make sure we use them properly. Just like our instincts.