April 16th, 2021


Unto Others

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published Jan. 30, 2015

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is what is commonly known as "The Golden Rule." It's a pretty good moral concept as moral concepts go.

It's an idea, which calls for, as Wikipedia says, " a reciprocal, or two-way, relationship between one's self and others that involves both sides equally, and in a mutual fashion."

But what if it isn't reciprocal? What if it isn't two-way? By definition, the Golden Rule assumes that if you treat someone kindly they will treat you in the same way. Well, guess what? It doesn't always work that way in real life.

Lots of times (most?) you might demonstrate kindness and do favors for others and they may not return the kindness and favors to you.

What then? Do you stop being the nice guy or do you continue showing goodness and doing favors for them even though in all likelihood they will never reciprocate? One side of your brain says, "enough is enough, I'm sick and tired of being used."

The other side says, "You show goodness and do favors for others, not because you expect to be paid back, but because it is the right and kind thing to do."

Understand that I'm not talking about giving to charities or helping someone in dire need, which we should all be willing to do whether we get paid back or not. What I'm saying is, all things being equal, should we continue to show generosity and doing favors for a person who is more than capable of returning the favors and, for whatever reason, never does?

The sweet, charitable person would tell you "do good unto others without expectation of reciprocation." The problem is it's so damn hard to put this lovely idea into practice. It's hard not to feel like a sucker when you are the one doing all the giving and the other one does all the taking. This one-way giving can be between friends or family, or simply co-workers or acquaintances.

I've spent a large part of my life expecting to get returns for a favor or kindness that I've extended to someone. Some people have returned the favors and some people haven't. When the favor isn't reciprocated, I feel used by those people and angry with myself for being a "nice guy."

But after a recent unfortunate event, I've finally figured out that it isn't about "those people," it's about me --- my mindset. I can't control other people's actions, but I can (or should) be able to control mine.

I can pick up a dinner check or not. It's my choice. I can buy someone a present or not.

Again, my choice. Whenever I make a conscious decision to be generous or giving it's always my choice. That's the easy part. The hard part is not to assume I will be "paid back" for doing a kindness or being generous. It's just this simple, if you don't expect anything back in return, then you won't be disappointed or angry with the person when it doesn't come.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that I will go on extending endless generosities to those who have shown time and time again no desire in extending the same to me. Sorry, but I'm not that good. But neither will I turn into a selfish, ungenerous lout. The trick for me is to temper my actions and my expectations.

I need to be discriminating with my generosity and never assume payback.

Giving is something we should be willing to do without expecting to get in return. Oh sure, it's nice when it does happen, but we're not supposed to depend on it. That way when it does come back to you, it's like a wonderful unexpected gift. And when it doesn't, you shouldn't let it get to you.

That is a tough thing for me to overcome, but I know I must try. You know, sometimes writing a column is the best therapy. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's also a Southern California-based freelance writer.