In the intricate dance of human interactions, the concept of “give and take” is a fundamental principle that underpins harmonious relationships and societal balance. At its core, this concept revolves around the reciprocity of actions and the understanding that every interaction involves an exchange of some kind.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

You gave me a job, I support you by doing my utmost. I don’t go around bad-mouthing you. I don’t rage-quit the moment I’m not happy – note: there is no perfect employer/job/boss – and if I really have to jump ship for whatever reason, I do so amicably without burning bridges. (Singapore’s unemployment rate averages around 2%. Be thankful you have a job! Retrenchments increased to 3,820 in the first quarter of this year. Again I say, be thankful you have a job! And be grateful! And, for your own sake, please hang on to that job. From having a regular income – whatever the amount – to zero income is no fun!)

You are hired to perform a customer-facing job, you don’t turn up for work with a head full of dandruff or show up looking like you’ve just slept in your clothes the night before.

You gifted me with a birthday present last year; I’ll make sure I’ll bless you one on your birthday this year.

Quid pro quo.

Give and take.

Last Christmas you received a little something from me; this Christmas it is expected that you return my generosity.

The dollar value of what’s being exchanged is of secondary importance, it’s the thought that counts. Really!

(However, before I go on, let me state categorically that I personally harbor no expectation of any kind. When I give, I am not giving in anticipation of receiving something back. I enjoy blessing people with gifts. It brings me much joy. I learned this from my mum. Her mantra: “Give till it hurts. Feed people with so much good food till they can’t eat anymore, then give them more food to bring home to share with others. Be generous! Don’t do things half way! Be nice all the way!)

Obligations, whether explicit or implicit, are the threads that weave individuals and communities together. They create a sense of responsibility and commitment, fostering trust and cooperation. Embracing obligations involves understanding that every action has a consequence, and every connection carries a certain level of commitment.

When someone made a deposit into your emotional bank account, and you have withdrawn from it, it is only right that you also make a deposit into that person’s emotional bank account, that is, you return the favor.

Of course, the world is divided into givers and takers. The fact of the matter is that takers acquire more, but givers sleep better. (Givers need to know how to set limits and boundaries, because many takers don’t know how to stop taking.)

Obligations, often seen as duties or responsibilities, are intertwined with the give and take philosophy. Navigating obligations involves recognizing the significance of equitable giving and taking. Striking the right balance ensures that relationships remain sustainable and enriching. It’s not about keeping a scrupulous tally or account of favors, but rather, it’s about embracing a spirit of generosity and reciprocity. The keyword is “reciprocity” or what I refer to as the “law of reciprocal returns.”

By embracing the art of give and take and recognizing the significance of obligations, we create a tapestry of interconnectedness. Just as we receive support and assistance in times of need, we are also obliged to extend our hand when others require it. When you are blessed with more, you do not up your standard of living; instead you should up the amount of your giving. There is a saying: “To whom much has been given, much is expected.” The widow in the Bible gave only two mites (the tiniest denomination of the curency in use at that time) but they were all she had, she gave her all, and she was greatly blessed in return. Such cyclical exchanges form the cornerstone of a resilient society, where empathy, cooperation, and the willingness to share enrich the lives of all.

Indeed, in a world where relationships are the backbone of our experiences, mastering the balance between give and take while approaching obligations with sincerity can lead us towards a more fulfilling and compassionate existence.

The give and take of life is an intricate choreography of obligations. In this dance, each step taken and received becomes a harmonious melody that enriches our lives and strengthens the bonds we share.

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