Focusing on The “Ethic Of Reciprocity”

In my personal reflections over the past few months,  I have tried to grapple with what is at the core of our Network-Centric Approach as well as the approaches of those groups across the country that we find learning partnership with.  Those reflections have led to this idea; that the core of this work is deep respect and empathy for one another that can only come from the practice of the “Ethic of Reciprocity” – the secular description of what is known as “The Golden Rule”: To treat others as you yourself might wish to be treated.  This ethic is the most universal and simple of ideas, perhaps one of the most powerful of ideas, and remains undoubtedly one of the most difficult ideas to practice day in and day out. It could be argued that the central mission of the institutions of organized religion and of faith based communities is to help us learn how to practice this one behavior consistently and persistently.  Witness the language of this ethic through the range of ancient and modern faiths.

Bahá’í Faith: 

  • Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.” “Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” Baha’u’llah
  • And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.” Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
  • Brahmanism: “This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you”. Mahabharata, 5:1517
  • Buddhism
    • “…a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” Samyutta NIkaya v. 353 
    • Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18
  • Christianity
    • “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12, King James Version.
    • And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31, King James Version.
    • …and don’t do what you hate…“, Gospel of Thomas 6. The Gospel of Thomas is one of about 40 gospels that were widely accepted among early Christians, but which never made it into the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).
  • Confucianism:
    • “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” Analects 15:23
    • Tse-kung asked, ‘Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?’ Confucius replied, ‘It is the word ‘shu’ — reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'” Doctrine of the Mean 13.3
    • Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.” Mencius VII.A.4
  • Ancient Egyptian:
    • Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.” The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, 109 – 110 Translated by R.B. Parkinson. The original dates to 1970 to 1640 BCE and may be the earliest version ever written. 3
  • Hinduism
    • This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517
  • Humanism:
    • (5) Humanists acknowledge human interdependence, the need for mutual respect and the kinship of all humanity.
    • (11) Humanists affirm that individual and social problems can only be resolved by means of human reason, intelligent effort, critical thinking joined with compassion and a spirit of empathy for all living beings.4
    • Don’t do things you wouldn’t want to have done to you, British Humanist Society. 3
  • Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.” 5
  • Jainism
    • “Therefore, neither does he [a sage] cause violence to others nor does he make others do so.” Acarangasutra 5.101-2. 
    • In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.” Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara
    • A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated. “Sutrakritanga 1.11.33
  • Judaism
    • “…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”, Leviticus 19:18 
    • “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
    • And what you hate, do not do to any one.” Tobit 4:15 6
  • Native American Spirituality:
    • Respect for all life is the foundation.” The Great Law of Peace.
    • All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One.” Black Elk
    • Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself.” Pima proverb.
  • Roman Pagan Religion: “The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves.”
  • Shinto
    • The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form
    • Be charitable to all beings, love is the representative of God.” Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga
  • Sikhism
    • Compassion-mercy and religion are the support of the entire world”. Japji Sahib
    • “Don’t create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone.” Guru Arjan Devji 259
    • No one is my enemy, none a stranger and everyone is my friend.” Guru Arjan Dev : AG 1299
  • Sufism:The basis of Sufism is consideration of the hearts and feelings of others. If you haven’t the will to gladden someone’s heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone’s heart, for on our path, no sin exists but this.” Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order.
  • Taoism:
    • “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien.
    • The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.” Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49
  • Unitarian:

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;”
“Justice, equity and compassion in human relations…. ”
“The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” Unitarian principles. 7,8

  • Wicca: “An it harm no one, do what thou wilt” (i.e. do what ever you will, as long as it harms nobody, including yourself). One’s will is to be carefully thought out in advance of action. This is called the Wiccan Rede
  • Yoruba: (Nigeria): “One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.”
  • Zoroastrianism
    • “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself”. Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5
    • Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.”  Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

Reciprocity is the ethic which is the foundation of RESPECT (which means to look back upon) and EMPATHY…2 practices that are at the core of our work. Reciprocity is the GIVE/GET value proposition that is our membership compact. And when we teach each other at LCW to ask ourselves — “would I do that? Would I go to that meeting? Would I take advantage of that value proposition?” We are practicing this ethic. And when we teach each other to be “curious, caring and open our hearts and minds” in the practice of WEAVING we are practicing this ethic.

Recently, at a meeting of the Leadership Learning Collaborative in Oakland CA, I was asked to be a Conversation Catalyst for a room of some 70 -80 leadership development professionals from around the country. In my comments I offered the proposition that this Ethic of Reciprocity maybe be the core idea behind all of our work to move the helping professions and community practice toward the idea of relationships of trust and mutuality. Later on, in small group discussion led by others, this idea was taken up and developed further and an idea was launched to try to initiate a viral movement around the idea of Reciprocity as a unifying ethic. partly fun and partly serious, the group even developed a symbol – made out of a pipe cleaner. Take a look at the short video below to get a little taste of the people, the idea and the moment.  Pssssssss..pass it on RECIPROCITY!!!


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