Reciprocity is a popular topic among field study enthusiasts. It refers to a mutual exchange of privileges or benefits. I recently learned that children reciprocating the care and attention of their parents when their parents grow old is an important part of Tibetan culture--and an area in which American culture differs a great deal. Indeed, as we discussed in my prep class, reciprocity is closely tied to kinship.
Americans operate on contracts: I'll give ten dollars and I'll receive this good or service that was priced at ten dollars. Within my family, my parents are bound to take care of me because that's part of the requirement of having a baby. However, once I'm an adult, my parents are no longer bound by the contract.
In my prep class I learned that Americans don't know how to reciprocate well. I certainly learned this in my conversations with Norbu and Mr. Tenzing--they were giving me their time and sharing their knowledge, even personal stories about their families, and I was not doing anything to repay them for their generosity.
Due in part to the Tibetan awareness of the impermanence of life, and also partially due to their belief in doing good in order to generate good karma, Tibetan culture has a "century old custom of love, compassion and warm-heartedness." Tibetans have already shown me a great deal of kindness, and I'm sure I will experience more while I'm living with a host family in the Tibetan community. Even though reciprocity isn't something I can list as a benefit to participants in my research on my IRB proposal, it is part of human decency and necessary to proper interaction in any community.
Here are some of my ideas for how I will reciprocate this kindness:
- Smile and say "toCHENah" (which, I learned from Tibetan, means thanks)
- Give photographs of me with my family
- Take people out to dinner
- Spend time with my host family (perhaps watching TV?)
- Help prepare meals, clean, launder, etc.
I'd really appreciate any other suggestions!
Video credit camera_obscura [busy]