I didn’t grow up going to church but I remember being about seven years old, looking at some red flowers in the porch area of our apartment and having a deep belief there was a God and I’d be okay. However, it wasn’t until I was in high school and college that I began pursing my faith a bit more.
When I finally got serious about my faith and church, I dove in head first and gave it my all, leading several Bible studies a week for many years. My faith grew as I read the Bible and I decided to start putting my thoughts about God down on paper. It became a project of sorts because I wanted to eventually give it to my daughter, Abigail. After several years of writing, and about a thousand pages of typing, I finished my own little Bible commentary.
I share that so you’ll have a better understanding of where I come from with this post and possibly others down the road. Ever since I started blogging I’ve thought about writing some posts about how influence and persuasion are used throughout the Bible and in particular, in the words of Jesus. Considering yesterday was Easter I thought the timing for this post was appropriate.
If you’ve ever read the sayings and teachings of Jesus then you know He was an influential man. Some would say He’s the most influential person who ever lived. Whatever your view about Him and His claims, there’s no denying He influenced the course of humanity. With that in mind let’s take a look at Luke, chapter 6, beginning in verse 32 when the Lord taught his disciples,
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do well to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great.”
I’d like to dissect this in terms of the principle of reciprocity. Reciprocity is the psychological principle describing the reality that people feel obligated to repay those who’ve done something for them.
When I hold training sessions one of the most common mistakes participants make is confusing reciprocity with rewards. Rewards are based on an “if – then” system. For example, your boss says, “If you reach these goals then you’ll get a bonus.” Or your teacher might say, “If you get a 90% or higher on the test then you’ll get an A in this class.” You do something to get something so a reward is akin to contractual arrangement. I tell people rewards bring closure but reciprocity initiates.
Jesus said it was no big deal, “If you love those who love you,” and “If you do well to those who are good to you.” If you think about it, in both cases reciprocity is at work but you’re the one it’s working on. It’s natural for you to love back or do something good in return because you feel psychologically compelled to do so. People loving you or doing good to you engages you to respond in kind.
Jesus encouraged His disciples to love first and do good to others first. That’s the key to reciprocity – be the first to act! There’s a risk when you initiate, when you engage people first by loving and giving without expectation, because they might not respond in kind.
Marketers use reciprocity all the time and while it helps drive results the response rate is far from 100%. For example, Easter Seals, March of Dimes, St. Jude’s and other organizations send people personalized address labels. Each organization knows when people receive small gifts like that they’re more likely to donate in return. In Influence Science and Practice, Dr. Cialdini cites a statistic that says charitable donations doubled, going from an 18% response rate of giving to 35%, when mailing labels are given as a gift.
Of course, the marketers expect a better return and that’s why they engage us in that manner. Although the response rate wasn’t 100% it’s enough to justify the practice. I think I can safely say if they didn’t get a better response rate when including the address labels they’d stop sending that “free gift.” This begs the question; are they really a gift? I’d say they are because we can use them or discard them and the marketers will never know.
But here’s the difference between marketers and Jesus; Jesus never stopped loving even when His gift was rejected and He encourages us to never stop loving and doing good. Some people will respond favorably and some won’t but either way we can be encouraged because Jesus made a promise, that one day we’ll eventually have a great reward.
My encouragement to you is to do the same – look to engage people with reciprocity. What do you have that could genuinely help others if you gave it away – time, money, talent, knowledge, or something else? Giving it away is one reason I blog because I want to help you understand the science of persuasion so your personal and professional lives will flourish. If this is helping you then pay it forward today and look for ways to help someone else.