The Dangers of Living by the Law of Reciprocity

by Jeff Veley | Love Changes It All

The Law of Reciprocity can be easily summed up as “Treat others the way that they treat you”.  Our naturally tendency as human beings is to allow the behavior of others to dictate how we treat them.  If they are nice to us, we are nice to them.  If they are mean to us we are mean to them.  This instinctual reaction is embedded in our DNA and has existed since the dawn of time.

Today we hear people describe the Law of Reciprocity in several ways.  You may have heard the phrase “Respect is earned”.  Essentially this means that instead of being respectful to begin with, this person will simply reciprocate respect if you are first respectful to them.  I’ve always found this phrase to be challenging.  To me it seems packed with a lot of attitude and expectations right out of the gate.  It would be difficult to befriend someone who thinks this way.  It automatically starts out on the wrong foot, in my opinion.

You may be wondering why we are wired for reciprocity.  I believe that the answer for this can be found in history.  Our ancestors, the cave men, relied on instinctual behavior like the law of reciprocity to protect them from their enemies.  In this uncivilized society, people lived by the survival of the fittest.  Each day brought a fight for food, protecting territory, possessions, and family.  The biological programming for reciprocity helped these primitive people respond to their enemies and friends in a way that made sense based on their behavior.

Today, the Law of Reciprocity no longer serves us well.  When we treat people the way that they treat us, it allows them to dictate our response.  That’s no way to live.  If you want to live a happy life you must decide not to let how people treat you to ruin your day.  When you do this, you will become resilient and difficult people will not be able to shake your happiness.  Next week on the blog I’ll share the genius of the Golden Rule, which is the age-old secret to dealing with people that are unkind and seemingly difficult.

Love does not dishonor others.


Jeff Veley is a national speaker, social skills educator, and entertainer specializing in resilience education for bullying prevention.  His mission is to equip students with the social and emotional skills that empower them to face adversity, grow in resilience, and solve their own social problems.  Jeff’s message has reached over one million people.  He’s received the Golden Rule International Award, the World Civility International Award, and is recognized by the United Nations for effectiveness in conflict resolution.  You can learn more about his program here.

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