This is a short musing about playing tit-for-tat. Last Thursday we had a social psychologist from Ohio giving a talk about this strategy, or actually the talk was about reciprocity in general, and about the way dyads go beyond reciprocity. That is, she argued how partners did not play strict tit-for-tat but avoided punishment wherever possible and instead opted for being forgiving. To be honest, my first thought was "Duh... so punishment harms the relationship - I would never have thought of that...
" However, as my favourite game these days is trying to understand the other perspective, I asked myself in what situations tit-for-tat was actually happening in my own life as well. And actually I came up with quite a few examples.
A very simple example is me and my best friend. At the moment we are planning a research project together with several other partners. Now Leon is the kind of busy person who always has a very good reason for ignoring your emails or not putting a lot of effort into something we have agreed to do together. And it occured to me that a long time ago I have implicitly settled on a tit-for-tat strategy. In order to not feel like I am putting all of myself into the interaction while not receiving much in return, I have begun to adjust my efforts to his. That is, whenever I feel like he is making an effort, I am making at least the same effort, or preferably twice of it. However, when he is not making any effort at all, I am not making any efforts, either. Thus, while usually I might do lots of preparatory work for our project that is not my duty but that I can afford to do, if he remains passive, I just keep myself busy with other things as well.
For me this is important, because in that way I never have to be reproachful (which is something I never wanted to be, based on some not so nice I-do-everything-for-you-ungrateful-child experiences I have had in my past), simply because I do not give any more than I feel I receive. Luckily, most of the time I feel like I am receiving way more than I can ever give back, so it admittedly is an easy game to play tit-for-tat.
But for me, realizing this was important. Realizing that in fact I am not giving so much, just giving back what I have received. These things might differ, and sometimes the things I receive have never been meant to be a gift, but I am just so happy about them, so why not interpreting them as a gift? And again this is old news, as I remember having had this topic with Glen several years ago - but it's good to think certain things through now and then. Well, my conclusion was that people (or me, anyway), do play tit-for-tat quite a lot, actually. Only that it need not be conscious, and that is open for definition what is tit and what is tat.