Orthodoxy Today
“You Owe Me One!” — The Reciprocity Factor

Have you noticed that someone you have once done a favor for sometime in the past now, seemingly out of the middle of nowhere the person now expects a favor back in return. It is not that they are asking you, rather their tone of voice and words indicate it is not a request rather it is an expectation. Where does this demanding expectation come from?

It actually comes from the faulty mindset of the individual who originally did the favor for you. The favor doer was saying mentally in his own mind, but did not communicate to you: "Ok I will do this favor for you, now you owe me one in the future." If the favor is not returned when I want it and in the way they want I have the right to be angry and resentful.” Cognitive-Behavioral psychologists call this distorted irrational cognition: Reciprocity. (Morelli, 2007). Reciprocity is a one way, that is to say, unilateral contract that if I do something for you I can expect that you will do something for me.

On close examination, such contracts are inherently dishonest and unfair because most often the other person did not know about the contents of the contract. No matter how realistic, valid, and fair the contract may seem to the person who made it up, the other may be following a completely different mental interpretation of the favor.

For example, the recipient of the initial favor may be saying in their mind: "Isn't it kind and generous of my friend to do this for me, he/she must care for me very much." The string attached to the favor by the favor doer is not known or agreed upon by the recipient. This kind of contract would be thrown out of every court in the land because it lacks ‘full and fair disclosure.’ Favors between friends, spouses and family members should be fully discussed and agreed upon. Negotiation, involving adaptability and understanding has to underlie the discussion. Even better favor should be given without conditions.

A common Chinese proverb states: “Forget the favors you have given; remember those received.” The Hindu scriptures tell us: “Free from expectations and from all sense of possession, with mind and body firmly controlled by the Self, they do [err].” (Bhagavadgita 4: 19-21). King Solomon in the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew scriptures considers benignity, without conditions: “He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.” (Pv 21:21).

This is certainly and explicitly the teachings of Christ. Christ freely joined his Godhead to humanity without conditions. St. Paul writes to the Philippians (5-7): “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” St. Luke (6: 35-36) quotes Jesus: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Our Eastern Orthodox Spiritual Father St. Theophylact commenting on this Gospel passage tells us: “Do you see the Divine teaching … He promises you will become like God.” As St. Peter writes in his epistle we will “become partakers of the divine nature.” (2Pt 1:4)


Morelli, G. (2007, April 27). Good Marriage II: Reciprocity — The One-Way Contract that can Wreck a Marriage. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/good-marriage-II-reciprocity-the-one-way-contract-that-can-wreck-a-marriage.

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: April 29, 2010

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