Reciprocity & Limitations

When I was in my twenties, one of my cousins, with whom I was raised, responded to a concern that I had presented to him. He spoke of being quite willing to solve my problem. His solution was to kill the person who was my source of angst. At the time, that statement did not move me one way or the other; what he said afterward was indeed profound.

My cousin was “street-wise and street-tough”. He saw himself as my protector since I was “book-smart” but “street-dumb.” During this discussion, he casually and mater-of-factly concluded with an insightful comment: “I would easily do that for you but I wouldn’t expect you to do the same for me.”

I never forgot those words. He was not calling me a coward. He was acknowledging and accepting who I was; he was the killer – I was not. He respected who/what I was – and all my limitations. He never tried to change me. He accepted my limitations as easily as I accepted his proclivities toward violence. (For the record, I resolved the issue another way. My cousin did not have to kill the person.)

In a relationship, no matter its nature, there are context and structure, resulting in the way things work. Relationships can be uneven or lopsided – sometimes deliberately or sometimes unconsciously. Coping with an asymmetrical relationship [and they all are, in one way or another] can pose a challenge because it can be a source of angst and grief at worst or excitement and variety at best. Understanding and accepting this phenomenon will go a great distance in avoiding disappointment. Such was the case in the above two examples. I did not disappoint my cousin; he accepted that there would be no reciprocity.

We all have our limitations. Limitations are part and parcel of being human – the nuts and bolts of a person’s identity and thus, they also define friendships. Friends accept or adjust to each other’s limitations. This being so, consciously or unconsciously, we know that people are not likely to erase or redraw the lines that mark their limitations. We also know or feel that to express a dislike for a person’s limitations may rock the boat resulting in sinking the friendship – or, at best, stabilizing it.

This approach has served me well. Nonetheless, I must admit it is more of a defense mechanism than anything else. Sometimes I resign myself to the reality that to avoid hurt/disappointment, I should accept that sometimes I will give more than I receive (and sometimes I will receive more than I give).  If I am wrong, then I am delightfully surprised. If I am correct, then I am spared pain. Only when I fail to do this, am I disappointed and grieved; then I quickly resort to the safety of this defensive frame of mind. In short, I try to do unto others without expecting they will do the same unto me.

After reflecting on the various friendships/relationships I realize that my limitations have created problems for others – and vice versa. Sometimes you end up being the better friend or not. Sometimes you give more and sometimes you give less but almost never the same amount as you receive. Reciprocity is desirable but not always achievable.

The reggae singer, Bob Marley, asserted, “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” My sentiments might be classified as a corollary to that statement: You will disappoint others and others will disappoint you; but never disappoint yourself. In short, it is others’ limitations that often result in one being “hurt” or disappointed — unless you learn to accept that that is the way life spins. You should know your limitations and know them honestly and thoroughly. More importantly, however, you should pay close attention to know the limitations of others, especially of friends or others that occupy your space.

One way to think of reciprocity: One person has two hands and the other one does not. One person scratches the back of the other but the other one can’t return the favor.

One way to think of the limitations in a relationship is that it is a rose. If the rose is not worth the thorns, then don’t pick it; otherwise, enjoy the scent as blood drips to the floor.

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 12:34 AM  Leave a Comment  

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