The Power of Reciprocity: An Energetic Exchange and…a Smile


Living with COVID-19 over the past two years put the focus for many of us on the simpler things in life. Without sporting events, rock concerts, large conferences, and other traditional gatherings, we placed a focus on the things that really matter in our lives—family and friends.

A telephone conversation, a virtual coffee, a paper birthday card sent in the mail—appreciation for all these “simpler” things in life resurfaced as we adapted to a world of restrictions on travel, social mingling, and traditional family gatherings. Gestures such as a smile or a wave are refreshing reminders of sharing, and they are to be reciprocated.

Reciprocity is an exchange of something valuable, the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. When we do something good for others, we also receive the uplift in energy as a feeling of generosity.

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote about the concept of a meaningful life in his well-known book, Man’s Search for Meaning, written after he endured the horrors of experiencing time in four concentration camps during World War II. One of his insights was realizing that a meaningful life is one where your focus is creating something bigger than just yourself, then letting success become a by-product of this dedication.

When we give to others without expectation, our generosity is rewarded with a feeling of contentment and love. When we exchange or reciprocate, the energy of goodness still exists, much like the power of magnetism. Magnetism is the force exerted by magnets, objects that repel or attract each other. According to Popular Science magazine, this powerful physical phenomenon is one component of electromagnetism, one of the fundamental forces of nature.

The motion of electrically charged particles found in all matter gives off electric currents that create a magnetic field. The energy of reciprocity is as powerful.

I observed this first-hand several years ago, when my son Alex decided to do something to help children in poor countries to have surgery to correct cleft palates. He watched a telethon to raise money for the not-for-profit group Operation Smile on television one afternoon and came running into the kitchen to say, “Mum, Mum, I need a credit card!” I asked him what he needed it for, and he said, “to buy a child a smile.” I was confused, until he pulled me into the living room to watch the television commercial seeking smile sponsors and highlighting the powerful difference the surgeries made. The children with cleft palates (who live in poor countries without extensive medical care) are often prevented from going to school because they are teased, or kept at home hidden away, and do not have the opportunity to live up to their full potential due to this medical tragedy that disfigures their face.

Alex is a special needs son, with a generous heart. He became impatient while waiting for his credit card application to be processed and said he would “sell my paintings to raise money.” Over a period of several years, he raised enough money to make an impact for several children to have the life-changing surgery to shift how others treat them, and to be able to smile again. During that time, I observed with interest how other people responded to Alex’s purely generous act of raising money to help another child. As a professional executive coach, I naturally see the potential in others, and encourage each person to focus on their gifts. I suggested to Alex that we could make “limited edition prints” of his 12 most popular art pieces, and continue to sell these which would expand the opportunity to raise even more money for Operation Smile.

The printer also offered to provide 25 copies of each print, at no cost. I was stunned and so grateful that the proceeds from the sale of Alex’s prints could buy children a smile they so desperately wanted. His artwork has funded five surgeries so far.

When Alex made the instinctive decision to help children he had never even met, others helped him in return. How many times have you smiled at someone in the grocery story, and saw them smile back? A smile is infectious, it is almost impossible not to smile at someone smiling at you. Unless of course, you have a cleft palate and smiling with joy is impossible.

Reciprocity is a powerful energy of exchange! Extremely powerful.

Alex asked me to help him make a book with pictures of his paintings (I had mentioned that I wanted to write a book, and he often copies what entrepreneurial activities I engage in). While I later did write Words, Women & Wisdom: The Modern Art of Confident Conversations, Alex’s book was written first. It became a catalogue of his artwork intertwined with his story.

What amazed me was how many other people were drawn to his special project. It was like magnetism. Someone offered to develop his website at no cost. He was welcomed to appear on Global TV in Calgary. When his project was shown on the news, the reporter was impacted by his personal story. When I called a printer for a quote to print Alex’s book, he told me he loved what Alex was doing and could not possibly charge for printing the book!