“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.” ~ Edward Hoagland
When I come home after work, or even if I just step out to get the mail, my dog greets my return with a wagging tail and a sometimes sleepy face. A ball of soft fluff as he spins in circles waiting for a scratch where he can’t reach.
I feed and walk him—admittedly sometimes it can seem like a chore if I’m sick or running late but I ask nothing other than the odd paw shake in return. And when he rolls over instead, I chuckle and pat his head slightly surprised that he still doesn’t get it, yet proud that he has so much character—due to his lack of obedience.
Love for another being with no strings attached. Actions with no expectation of a future returned favour.
There are a few expectations I hold that are founded from habits and the routines we’ve built together:
I expect that if he is sleeping, it is on the couch.
I expect that he will wait to relieve himself until we are outside.
I expect that he will wait to eat his food, until I am home because he feels safe and relaxed.
I expect if there is a fly in the house that he will be found in his protective fortress that is my claw foot tub.
I do get tremendous amounts of happiness from my pup, but the idea of actionable reciprocity never enters my consciousness.
A curious seed of thought planted in my brain. Why we can’t treat our human counterparts similarly? My background in psychology leads me to find dusty textbooks still saved from graduate school years—social psychology applied to a labrador.
Intentions and consequences are how we generally label behaviour as either positive or negative. A positive action that has a negative consequence, such as helping a neighbour move and dropping a piece of art work, is still seen as a kind act even though the outcome is not desirable.
Reciprocity and it’s relation to intention in a friendship is a social norm that needs to be quelled. At the center of positive reciprocity is an underlying labyrinth of favour trading.
Why is it when we do something nice for a friend we may have some underlying expectation that they respond in kind?
I buy the first round of drinks. Should I expect that you will “get the next one”?
I helped you move two months ago and last week my house sold. Should you feel obligated to pack some of my boxes?
In no way am I suggesting that we shouldn’t help each other, I am saying we should look these acts as separate behaviours.
You made dinner. Thank you.
I washed the dishes. Thank you.
Separate non-reciprocal helping behaviours. One does not create a chain reaction to set the other into motion. They just are.
How would our relationships change if we approached each action with some form of finality? Altruistic, a social gift with no expectation of a response in kind. Act with kindness, then let it go.
Ask for help. Offer help. Expect nothing and see what happens.
The idea of you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours is inherent in our interpersonal development as humans. The benefits of positive reciprocity can teach children about teamwork, kindness, empathy and many other positive behavioural lessons. But as we grow older, I poster that this back scratching, implied-favour laden behaviour be stopped or at least brought to consciousness.
When I scratch my dogs back, I don’t expect him to lift a paw to scratch mine.
Free our friendships of obligation.
Act with out reciprocal expectations.
Treat your friends like dogs.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Jessica Sandhu/Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: From author