for ian


the boy is here

Ian George made an exciting appearance this morning. Heather labored all night, but she and Ian are fine and sleeping now. I'm still running on adrenalin, I think. And so proud of Heather, and grateful.

Ian is the Scottish form of John, which means "God is gracious."


anna's prayer

A blessing for Ian, given by our friend's young daughter (our friend is having another daughter any day now). I really like it.



I've been a bit caught up in plans and arrangements for the birth (which could be any day now). But I've had some thoughts recently about what is sometimes called "reciprocity."

It's found in pretty much every culture, though emphasized more strongly in some. Basically, the exchanging of "favors," and the obligations that go along with that. Not usually in direct bartering ("I'll do this for you, if you will do that for me"), though sometimes that's the case. But just that doing something for someone else builds up a kind of unspoken "capital," something they owe you. We feel that favors ought to be returned. This may be between individuals, but it can also be a kind of social capital, a contribution to the group that seems to give us a stake in the community, or perhaps honor or even authority. There's been significant research and theorizing about this kind of reciprocity in social interactions.

Maybe my earliest experiences of the pressures of reciprocity have to do with Christmas gift giving (which I've written about before). But I've also noticed it in Christian communities where there's lots of sharing. You wouldn't think of paying each other for services, but it seems there is still a feeling that you owe (either an individual or the group), and I think that does motivate a significant portion of the sharing. It's hard to nail down, since it's almost never explicit, just something I've felt. But I've heard others describe the pressure as well. And seen how they've acted, which seems to indicate the same inner obligation they feel to reciprocate.

I suspect it's a natural social construct, nurtured to avoid the abuses that happen when some members of a group receive but do not give back. It seems pretty obviously fair, as well. But it doesn't feel like a very good motivation for helping others. Not what Jesus taught us about loving others, certainly. "Give to those who have given to you" doesn't really sound like something Jesus would teach.

Mostly I don't like feeling the pressure to do something just because I supposedly "owe a favor." And I don't like giving with string attached. I'd like to do something for someone else simply because it's a good thing, because I'm inspired to participate, because love motivates me. It seems to me that the pressures of reciprocity confuse and get in the way of that free motivation of love.

So I think I'll try not to encourage the reciprocity idea in my child. I suppose it can't be completely avoided, as it seems to be a part of every social culture. But I don't have to teach it myself (and I may be able to help expose it). I'd like to teach love and gift instead, like Jesus did. And not relying on favors that others supposedly owe us, but relying on God's love to inspire others to help us in our need—and doing the kind of good work that inspires others to want to help.