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civic engagement community community engagement engagement personal development personal engagement

Best Practice: Real Reciprocity

This is the seventh post in my series on Best Practices in Engagement.

The world operates in infinite exchange, with constant cycles moving and removing. Water cycles, weather cycles, the Butterfly Effect… there are so many cycles that we actively live through and often become conscious of going on all around us. However, when was the last time you saw the cycles in your own life?

Practice 7: Live Real Reciprocity.

Real reciprocity happens when we give to ourselves what we hope to give to the world. If you seek to end world hunger, some part of you is starving. Real reciprocity begins when you name that hunger, examine it, and find what it needs to be filled. If you want to critically analyze every system in your community for social justice, real reciprocity calls you to look within yourself for the unjust and to name what personal justice you can bring within yourself. Real reciprocity calls us to hold ourselves accountable by looking at our demands to the world by insisting we take a look inside in turn.


Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once said, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” Real reciprocity also calls for you to shine the light inwards whenever you name something “bad”, “wrong”, or otherwise in dichotomy. If a situation is bad, then you are seeing some part of yourself looking back at you in that situation. If something outside you doesn’t feel right, then there’s something inside you that’s askew. Name those things.

Then, when we are ready to give to the world we can wholly and fully do that because we’ve given to ourselves first. It’s only through this attentiveness to personal engagement that the potential for community engagement will be fulfilled. That’s why we must live real reciprocity.

3 Steps Towards Real Reciprocity

1. Get Honest With Yourself. Do you think something in the world around you is bad? Name the thing within you that is challenging you instead. With the world around us as a mirror of our interior, we need to be honest with ourselves by taking a look inside as frequently as we can. If it bugs us out here, there’s something bugging us in here. Similarly, if you’re yearning to love someone, feed someone, teach someone, or comfort someone, then within you right now you’re yearning to be loved, fed, taught, and comforted. Get honest and name the things that you’re looking for for what they’re really worth. 

2. Physician, Heal Thyself! This ancient saying means many things, not the least of which being that you have the power to create the change you want to see within yourself right now. Rather than rely on others to do for you what you can do for yourself, you can practice real reciprocity by doing for yourself what you think others can do for you. Don’t rely on people to fix, mend, lift up, build, or otherwise take care of you when you can do those things to yourself for yourself.  

3. Get Outta Town. When Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime,” he may have been speaking about your tendency to sit at the computer and read too many blog posts. Get outta your head, outta your heart, and go interact with the world, right now! This is real reciprocity. 

Check out the first six posts in this series on Best Practices in Engagement, and subscribe to this blog to learn more!

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

By Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker, writer, trainer, researcher and advocate who researches, writes and shares about education, youth, and history.

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