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Expectations and Disappointments

January 3rd, 2017

"That's it, I'm done, from now on I will look after number one, me and mine."

You may have said this yourself or seen it on one or more of your 'dramatic' friend's Facebook timeline or twitter feed. I always shake my head when I see this because nearly all the time, that same thing will be said again by the same person at some point in the future again. The problem, it would seem, is that if you are a kind, helpful, giving person – you cannot help yourself – being selfish and heartless makes you uncomfortable and even unhappy.

So why then these feelings of disappointment?

Let me tell you a story. There was a children’s nursery that had a problem with several parents who were habitually late in picking up their children. Despite management's efforts, the situation did not appear to improve. Finally they decided that they would fine any parents collecting their children late and published this policy to all parents. All of a sudden they had a dramatic increase in parents collecting their children late.

What happened? Well what happened was that the relationship between nursery and parents changed. From the parent's perspective, as long as they paid the fine, the nursery was happy with children being picked up late. This observation is the reason I advised someone close to me not to accept any money or favours for looking after her grandchild which allowed her daughter and her partner to work. If she did, it would then be an expectation from the child's parents that the grandmother was a child-minder rather than a grandmother and that brings potential for conflict. The moment you introduce some kind of agreement (contract) it changes the dynamics of the relationship.

When you do a good deed, you need to determine whether you are doing a good deed or expecting pay back at some point in the further. Reciprocity - the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit – is a feature of all social animals including us humans , despite Richard Dawkins' 'Selfish Gene' theory . In some cases, the social rules of reciprocity are clear, for example, monkeys grooming each other but in other situations it is not so clear cut.

Many of us in today's modern western world assume that everyone adheres to the 'nothing for nothing' rule and that some payback would be or should be assumed and expected. However, our modern western culture also promotes greed and selfishness so why would we expect that? If you are expecting payback, it may be better to make it clear.

'I owe you one' is a phrase that acknowledges the social debt on the behalf of the receiver who wishes to change the relationship from one of giving to one of reciprocity. However, in such a case, an additional complication is who sets the 'price' of the payback? Does lending you $20 when you desperate equate to you lending me $100 when I am desperate? In both cases, there is an expectation of getting the money back and being helped out of a jam. If there is a mismatch in each party's expectations, the potential for disappointment is increased.

So if you doing someone a favour and you wish to get pay back, just say "you'll owe me one" and see whether the favour is still sought. Otherwise, accept that you have given and expect nothing. Judging from the number of times I have seen that time-line post, you will not be disappointed.