Whether you call it Ubuntu, the Golden Rule, Karma, paying it forward, or any other name the basic concept remains the same. Reciprocity doesn’t inherently mean you are a pacifist or an antagonist. It manifests itself in many forms. It can include actions of creation or nurturing (building a home, helping an ill person) and, when necessary destruction (e.g. demolishing a home, defending a person from harm). When we help others without any promise of reward or enrichment we fulfill the true meaning of humanity. There are times when you assist someone and they feel that their gratitude is an insufficient repayment for what you’ve done for them. That is when you assure them that there will be a time when they’ll be able to do the same for someone else. When you practice reciprocity you may not receive all that you are justly “due”; however, you will know that you have been a magnanimous individual.
As human beings we sometimes take for granted being, arguably, the dominant species on earth. We have the rare ability to choose to practice right versus wrong AND correct versus incorrect. Ostensibly right and correct would be the same concept. There are times when this is indeed the case. Never the less, there are many times when it is not. Take for example the following quandary:
You’re hiking and you’ve come upon an accident victim in a fairly remote area. They’re unconscious, bleeding profusely and there are no medical supplies available (Let’s assume you have basic first aid/triage skills) . You’ve called the EMT’s, and have been informed that their ETA is over 5 minutes. Obviously the victim could die within that time frame. You notice that there is a nearby home, but no one answers your calls. You’ve done everything you’re legally required to do. You also notice a vehicle parked outside of the home. You peer into the vehicle see that there is a medical kit inside. In this instance the correct thing to do is to obey the law and not break into the vehicle and take the medical kit. The right thing to do is to get the medical kit and use it to aid the accident victim.
The previous example is an extreme one and the magnitude of doing the right thing regarding the accident victim is readily apparent. However, even seemingly small acts of reciprocity can have an enormous positive effect. We’ve all been in a grocery or cafeteria line and the person ahead of us is just pennies short of the purchase amount. Sometimes you offer to cover that person’s shortage. The immediate positive effect that comes to mind is that the person who received your assistance will be inclined to do the same thing for someone else. Sometimes it can be much greater. That small, selfless act you perform may inspire that person to take up or renew a positive path. The examples are endless. It is important to know when there are differences between the right thing and the correct thing. In so doing, you have the full capacity to decide whether to do the right thing or the correct thing. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy or clear cut, but it’s one of the concepts that help justify how great humans believe we are and perhaps may one day become.