Life’s Playbook #6

You shouldn’t expect things in return.

I was talking to my life giver mother one day; we were on the topic of me buying a gift for a friend. Normally, you’d expect words of encouragement or at least just an acknowledgment. Until she gave me a response that took me by surprise; as well as making me feel a little irked.

“Why do you need to buy him a gift? He should be the one buying things for you. You’re not getting anything out of it. Is he going to get you something in return?”

Now, regardless if it was someone I was interested in, a significant other, or just a friend, what my food-maker mother insinuated rubbed me the wrong way. I could understand she grew up with old conventional ways, where guys were expected to chase the girl and pay for everything. I also understood that some people believed that the magnitude of a guys interest in you depended on the amount of material value they provided.

Nevertheless, never did I personally expect a guy to do things for me, and neither should you. If individual’s wanted equality in society; especially in this modern era, we should do things equally. Unless it’s been made clear otherwise.

I didn’t think it was a waste of my money. earned the money by working, and I’m at an age that could make my own responsible decisions.


With such, it got me thinking about the amount of peers I’ve heard complain about not receiving anything in return, despite giving/doing stuff for others.

“He didn’t give me anything back. That’s so annoying.”

“How dare she not help me out, when I’ve done/bought this for her.”

The concept of getting something in return comes from the idea of “reciprocal exchange”. In history, early white settlers in the U.S scorned the gifts received as “Indian giving”, because a return was expected. Though this is the case, they were scorned by American Indians for not realizing gifts entailed social obligation.

Tribal societies practiced three different forms of reciprocity; Generalized, balanced, and negative. Generalized reciprocity means that nothing is directly expected in return. This is something that people under a materialistic world fail to understand. People should be doing things for people, because they genuinely want to; not just to get things in return.

Balanced reciprocity is when there is an expectation of return, which is something arguably the most common out of them all. This usually involves people less closely linked to one another.

Lastly, negative reciprocity is the concept of trade relations with outsiders, where there is a notable attempt to get someone to exchange something they may not want to give up. (A scam).


Why do we have reciprocal exchange? 

In a cultural perspective, it makes a great deal of sense, as we consider friendships, families, holiday events, dating, charity work, etc. We use this to build relationships in society and peers. Unfortunately, gift giving eventually became an expectancy, and a burden to some.

End scene: 

We shouldn’t expect things in return, because we live in a world where people have a freedom of choice. Some people don’t feel the obligation to do anything in return, because it isn’t within their values or necessity. Although it may be disagreeable, you can’t fault them for holding such concepts.

If it upsets you that people don’t do/buy things in return for you, you should first consider that some people have different ways of showing their affection. In 1995, Gary D. Chapman illustrated that every individual fit into a different category of expressing themselves in the 5 Languages of Love.

  • Words of affirmation.
  • Quality time.
  • Receiving gifts.
  • Acts of service.
  • Physical touch.

Depending on your relations with the person, you have to understand that some people express how they care differently. Though if it doesn’t seem like they do any of that for you; or only do it for their selfish gains, you should probably cut ties with them. Toxicity is best to be avoided.

Now, if you do things solely on the basis of expecting things in return, or being treated well, then your perspective on life is slightly selfish. People don’t owe you anything just because you’ve bought them something. Monetary value has no real value.

What counts is the effort and thought you put into in doing something for people. Kindness and gift-giving should be done, because you want to do it.

– Charlotte T.

Food for thought: To what extent in gift giving during someone’s birthday is just out of social obligation, a bribe, or genuine thoughtfulness?

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