Key Thought for this session:

“Without the context of a bigger stage, BEING TRUE TO SELF is a flattering allegiance to bias and voices of deception.”

Great! Thank you for sharing. We have said this already but I’d like to say it again. Justice, as explained by the theory of Social Exchange, is a truth of human nature that is in everyone, but not necessarily obvious to us.

The central message of Social Exchange is that the force that holds two parties together in a relationship is the value that passes between them. Specifically, social exchange claims that you give with an expectation of receiving and receive with an obligation to return the favor. Sometimes this is called “the norm of reciprocity”. What is given and received does not have to be in the same form. For example, one could give money to another in return for time the receiver may spend with the giver. A wealthy person may give money to a charity in return for a building being named after them.

Sociologists have found by studying primitive tribes that this behavior is not learned but instinctive. It is buried deep within the human condition governing all types of relationships. It’s as human as needing air to breathe and water to drink. So, without even being aware, social exchange is a powerful influence on what we decide to do as we go through life, especially as our behavior is SELECTED to bring more satisfaction, as we discussed earlier in this course. For example, you have heard the platitude or proverb that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”.

“Blessed” refers to joy. So, the saying represents a truth that giving offers more joy than receiving. If being happy occurs when my circumstances benefit me, we would view this truth as a promise that we will be happier when we give to others. However, giving may make us feel better, relieve deep seeded guilt, or in some cases giving can be seen as a way to have others give back to us. The social exchange influence built into our nature is really telling us that giving is the best way to get something we need. So, while giving may seem to make us more virtuous, the exchange force in our nature can sometimes create a hidden reality that giving is a self-serving way to meet our own needs.

Social exchange is present in our marriage and in our work. When someone says marriage is “50-50” relationship, they are simply saying that marriage works as an exchange equilibrium. Even if we want to be virtuous and say marriage is 90-10 relationship, when the balance of exchange gets to a point that one is giving more than they are receiving, then the relationship dissolves or the parties remain for reasons other than exchange... such as moral duty, or coercion from someone in power. We will look at these types of exchanges in a minute.

The key point is that the exchange must satisfy each party’s expectations. Social exchange is a powerful bias on how you choose to respond to events in your life. Often you are not even aware of its influence.

As we mentioned in explaining social exchange, the exchange can take one of many different forms.

One is the law. The phrase “liberty in law” may at first glance seem contradictory. However, members of a community maintain freedom in exchange for following the law as set forth by the community.

Social scientists have found that built into human nature is the drive of people to “give in order to get.” This is called by the Latin phrase “quid pro quo”, which means something for something. Much charity is behavior that appears virtuous, but is influenced in the person’s soul by the expectation they will receive something for what they are giving, such as praise, honor, or a favorable act by someone who can help them. Maybe even a person who gives is receiving relief from guilt or shame, or just likes feeling good about what they do.

Recently psychologists from Yale University studied monkeys on a secluded island where civilization had never touched.

They found that the monkeys easily learned to trade “monkey coins” for grapes with the scientists. They also saw social exchange exhibited in the interactions the monkeys had with each other, very similar to humans. Their conclusion was that monkeys have characteristics that humans exhibit. This suggests that social exchange is also very basic even in the core nature of animals.

There’s more to exchange than just giving to get. What do most people do when they receive a gift? They feel guilt or shame, which often motivates them to do something in return, like return with another gift, or at least send a “Thank You” note. It just seems like the right thing to do. But is it virtue or is it just in our human nature to be motivated to give back to someone when we receive. Obligation and duty are powerful and instinctive influences on us to keep the exchange in balance.

Morality is a specific form of exchange. The moral code of a community reflects the virtues that everyone must exhibit so individuals of a community are viewed as good, which is how people receive acceptance by the members of the community.

We have mentioned culture before as a critical part of our worldview.”

We discussed earlier how culture affects how we see things. It does this through shared values that end up biasing and filtering what we actually see in situations. The other key component of culture is called “cultural norms”. Norms are behaviors that everyone expects in given circumstances. Being seen as legitimate in a community is one of the most powerful forces in human decision-making. So, when we try to follow the norms, this results in us doing things that others in our community expect of us. Norms differ from law and morality in that norms are only relevant and important in a particular situation. They are not formal rules (law) nor are they the community’s predefined code of virtue (morality). For example, celebrations for holidays, weddings and funerals are cultural norms. How people greet each other, especially elders and authorities are types of cultural norms. Norms give community identity, order, and predictability. All this is to help illustrate that when we talk about influences that impact the behavior we SELECT in a situation, we can see that our need to conform to cultural norms is a powerful influence, and one we rarely recognize is happening.

Since social exchange is built into human nature, you may ask this question: “Is it possible for anyone to ever choose a behavior that is not influenced by exchange?” That would be a good question. In our discussion of types of community, we claimed that Types 1 and 2 were exchange based and Type 3 was not. We described Type 3 community as one where those with power treat people with unmerited favor (or undeserved kindness) because of their character of love and generosity. This poses another interesting question.

Are we then saying that a Type 3 community is “inhuman”?

That is also a good question for you to consider during this course. Throughout the ages people have pondered this. Someone, who believed that Type 3 communities are possible, once told a story of a father whose relationship with his sons was NOT based on exchange. However, while the father was not influenced by exchange, his sons were. Because his sons were influenced by their human nature, they selected behavior based on exchange and failed to get the full benefits of their father’s unmerited love. The story goes like this.

“A wealthy father had two sons. The oldest son did everything the father asked him to do but the younger son was restless and rebellious. One day the youngest son could not wait any longer for his inheritance, so he asked his father to give him his part of the estate. Surprisingly, his father agrees, sells half of all his business interests, and gives his son the money. The son then goes to another city and wastes all his inheritance, while the older son remains at home doing his duty as a son. The younger son, who is then out of money, finds himself broke, homeless, and unable to buy food. Eventually, he decides that, even though he could never again be treated like a son by his father because he had not only disrespected his father, but had also squandered his part of the family wealth, that he would be better off if he just went back home and got hired as an employee at one of his dad’s businesses.

“When his father saw him coming in the distance, he was filled with compassion, and ran out to meet him. The son started saying, ‘Father I don’t deserve a second chance,...’ but his father interrupted him, and hugged him, and welcomed him home. His father then threw a big party to celebrate his son’s return and gave him expensive gifts. Regardless of what his son had done, the father was so excited to have him back home. The oldest son was working at the office in one of his father’s businesses when someone told him about his brother’s return. When he got home and found out that his Dad was throwing his younger brother a party, he became angry and would not join the party. His father pleaded with him to come in, but the oldest son replied, ‘I have obeyed you and done everything you expected of me and you never threw a party like this one for me!’ The father replied to the eldest son, ‘You have always been with me and have had access to all that I have, but your brother was estranged from me and now has come back home and this is worth celebrating.’”

This story has some interesting and important insights, but before we get into the major point this story teller wants you to understand, let me ask you this: