Reciprocity is the basis of agreements." So many times has this Old French proverb been quoted. It has been repeated in lectures on international law, and has been used during the conclusion of all sorts of treaties. Moreover, it has been quoted in countless cases of many vital perturbations.
Not just a most immutable truth is contained in the words of this proverb. Each human mind, in all its aspects, distinctly understands that without reciprocity any agreement will be only an empty and disgraceful sound. Without reciprocity the participation unfailingly amounts to falsehood and fraud, which sooner or later produces all the consequences created by deceit.
We speak about good will, but reciprocity can flourish only on the basis of good will. In no wise is it possible to evoke so-called reciprocity if this beautiful flower does not blossom as the lotus of the heart.
Waves beat against the rocks. The rocks meet them without reciprocity. True, the waves can wear away the rocks. The waves can form whole underwater grottoes and in their ceaseless motion can destroy stone giants. But of course this will not be reciprocity or agreement — this will he an assault. This is violence, and any violence inevitably ends in destruction of one kind or another. He who uses violence will perish from violence.
In the example of the waves and rocks, two discordant elements meet, as it were. Yet even the rocks, if their structure permitted, could lead the opposing element into channels useful for existence.
However, it is hardly possible to assume that human hearts are as little in concordance as are water and stone. After all, even water can be in a solid state and the strata of rock can produce moisture. Yet these elements lack consciousness, or, at any rate, their consciousness is inaccessible to us. But there can be no human heart, which on the one hand could bestow the dew of benefaction, and on the other be incapable of adamantine courage.
The humanness, which is common to all ages and peoples is likewise ineradicable. No matter what narcotics, alcohol, and nicotine may do to kill it, it can somehow, somewhere, be awakened.
A great criminal may be a devoted family man. Consequently, if his good feelings are still capable of being aroused in relationship to his near ones, in the same way, by some increased effort they can be extended toward all that exists. At present people are not setting up as an ideal St. Francis of Assisi, who even addressed a wolf as "Brother Wolf." Not even accepted is the ideal of the ascetics who possessed the language of the heart, which is understood by both birds and animals. Aside from these lofty ideals about which people usually exclaim, "Well, we're not St. Francis," there can be the meeting ground of common humanity.
On this heartfelt basis, it is still possible to open even the most tightly sealed heart. Apart from all their business affairs, about which people have composed the saying, "No deceit — no deal", apart from all their multifarious trade people cannot avoid contact with the spiritual spheres. People who are unaccustomed to such contacts sometimes even experience pain instead of beneficence. This arises from being unaccustomed to such sensations. Indeed, a man who has never felt an electric spark always believes himself extremely sensitive to even the least discharge of it. "It burned me," or "It pierced me," says the novice, but by and by, if they are repeated, he does not even notice greater discharges.
Actually, these outcries arise not at all from a heightened sensitiveness, but from an ingrained prejudice. Is there not also precisely the same absurd prejudice in human relationships when a wave of rationality and cordiality beats against a rock of hostility and stupidity?
It is also strange that people so often imagine reciprocity as a matter of some sort of official governmental agreement. But, surely, without family, friendly, and social reciprocity, what is there to be said about that of the government? Rocking the basis of social intercourse, people shake all the other fundamentals. The foundations of marriage could be shaken, and as a result the state would acquire millions of homeless, savage juveniles born out of wedlock. It is possible to make an odious jest out of the employment of all kinds of poisons, and to end up with the poisoning of almost an entire people. Do we not see examples of this?
In each of such cases, which have turned into a national calamity, at the basis could be discerned some stupid egotistical action. Someone thought only about his own self-indulgence or culpable self-interest, and from this single malignant small piece of coal have burst out conflagrations leading to national disasters. Verily, brutalized egoism is primarily the enemy of reciprocity.
Life in a society provides a multitude of opportunities for the cultivation of reciprocity. Indeed, all feelings have to be cultivated. But a great deal of true humanness and tolerance must be manifested in order that the very idea of reciprocity may grow freely and voluntarily. Reciprocity also reminds about responsibility. Each one who rejects reciprocity offered him in the work for the general good takes upon himself a grave responsibility. In reciprocity are combined mind and heart. In benefaction the heart senses where it must extend its benevolence. On the other hand the mind reminds about that responsibility which will grow out of cruelty or ignorance.
Experiments by small groups of co-workers assembled for good works provide many tests for the cultivation of reciprocity. It is better at first to test everything in daily life. Observe how routine daily tasks and conflicts are transformed, and you will apprehend how, as in a megaphone, they will reverberate, to be heard by all. Egoism and self-interest can also be verified through the megaphone. What a horrible, harrowing roaring and howling can result from an apparently most negligible domestic misunderstanding!
Not without reason in the ancient schools of life did the teacher sometimes intentionally fling out a test of tolerance and mutual understanding. Those who could not understand with their hearts that which was necessary, at least through reason could be put on their guard about the impending responsibility. It is possible to strike upon some resounding object in one corner of a house and receive an echo unexpectedly in an opposite guarter. It is exactly the same in the creating of responsibility and reciprocity.
If people could only realize more quickly that for the good of the peoples' progress reciprocity must not be left within the confines of a proverb, but should become the basis for cooperation!
"Reciprocity is the basis of agreements."
April 29, 1935