In this post I’m partially diverting from my usual analysis of technology in society and business, and instead attempting to communicate a perspective on what I see as a serious flaw in human relations: the expectation and demand for benefits from others.
It’s been something I have always instinctively resisted. Politically and socially, the notion of being owed something merely for having done something we enjoy, or even simply having outlived others, is anathema to me. Whilst I feel rewards for an individual effort are certainly due and should be celebrated, it is the expectation of those rewards, particularly in financial terms, which I would choose to resist. Assuming one will be rewarded financially (or even socially on an ongoing basis) for a single achievement seems to me, to be a veiled form of greed.
Indebtedness is something that certainly should be felt. Thanking and rewarding others for their assistance in one’s life and work is both appropriate and human. But harbouring an expectation of reciprocity alters the motivation for human interaction and goodwill. Whilst bargaining is a necessary and valuable form of exchange for services and needs, it should not extend to all interactions between humans. Generosity for its own sake can and should be valued.
I fear as a society, a culture built on the concept of ‘he/she owes me’ is one that lacks both personal responsibility and generosity. Those who depend on inheritance, for instance, fail as human beings to forge their own place in the world. Those who are recipients of welfare – and I was, both directly and indirectly for all of my childhood – should be supported because it is humane to do so. But again, these recipients of welfare should not ever develop an expectation of support, but rather be appreciative of the support they received. I know I am immensely grateful for the support I received as a child. It was crucial to my early development and I could never have progressed to the person I am today without that pecuniary care. I feel indebted for the welfare I received, and do what I can for charities as a means of expressing that debt. But I don’t feel that I need to work in Australia to earn enough to pay back every dollar I received (plus interest) in taxation. Instead I contribute in taxes here in the UK and hope my tax pounds will help others in need.
(In all fairness, I don’t feel that the Australian government is in any way making me feel guilty for not contributing there, and I don’t feel there is an expectation of remuneration. But I am often surprised at the malignant response of those who question my decision to work and pay taxes overseas.)
The ‘he/she owes me’ society is a legacy of hereditary sovereignties that are now outdated. As human beings surely we have the capacity to move beyond such selfish rapacity? While it will always be correct to feel indebted, isn’t it now time to stop assuming compensation without effort?