We often carry uncharitable motives unconsciously into even our most charitable actions.
I’m thinking particularly about favors.
We don’t often admit it, but there’s some part of all of us that is secretly happy when we do a good turn for someone else precisely because our favor puts the other person in our debt. We like having others in debt to us. It gives us a feeling of security and power when we can call in a debt at our own leisure. We think we can hold people’s affection and friendship as long as the ledger is in our favor. To further compound the debts of our debtors, we refuse to accept any favors or gifts or payment in return for our good actions.
We think we’re quite clever.
Fortunately, this way of going through life doesn’t work.
People will not remain your friends simply because you have a ledger balance against them. People don’t like playing games of who-owns-who. People don’t like being takers of favors and not givers. And they will know very quickly if your motive for giving favors is the exercise of control or influence through a social debt.
Debtors become bitter very fast when they are kept from ever paying their debts. And bitter debtors will not just fail to return the favor – they’ll despise you.
What’s the alternative?
We so often think that giving alone is what forges strong relationships. That’s why we hold on to being givers only, never allowing people to pay us back for kindnesses.
This misses the deep reality of reciprocity. The “trade” – the process of giving AND receiving – is what makes the positive relationship, not the imbalance of simply taking or simply giving. People who trade together trust each other and have helped each other out. Both have become richer in the process of the trade. And because no trade puts either party in “debt,” both people learn to respect each other.
Let people give back to you. Give and receive. Your real “power” in any social group will come not from accruing debts but from creating mutually beneficial exchanges wherever you go.