Radclyffe Hall, one of classical literature’s famous lesbian writers, wrote this in her book The Well of Loneliness on page 69:
“Yet every one liked her; she took what she gave and she gave what she took, yes, but sometimes she gave just a little bit more – and that little bit more is the whole art of teaching, the whole art of living, in fact.”
I haven’t read The Well of Loneliness (ok fine, 3/4ths of The Well of Loneliness) since it was assigned to my Women Studies class in October of 2011, and looking back at this quote I immediately remembered why I liked it. Then a, “what the hell is this punctuation/language structure” moment happened; I mean, is that “yes” a typo or just Radclyffe Hall, being Radclyffe Hall? I find it strange that the awkward vernacular didn’t strike me when I was originally typing it, but I guess within the context of the book and page after page of old English, it sounded natural, or at the very least understandable. Here is where I would like to go off on a tangent about watching both seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones consecutively causing me to think in Game of Thrones dialect, but I shall refrain my lord.
If you have never seen Game of Thrones you can ignore that sentence and refocus on the passage from Ms. Hall. If you have read the book, I am fairly certain this is a comment about Stephen’s nanny (not the maid she had the hot’s for), just to give you some context (also Stephen is a girl, just to give non-readers some context. It’s confusing, I know). It doesn’t really matter if you’ve read it however, it’s simply a passage about reciprocity and what goes beyond reciprocity – being the one to give “just a little bit more” – and isn’t that almost a greatly abridged definition of a “good” person?
A good person would give more than expected because they want to. We know they want to and don’t have to because when something is reciprocal it is already at an equal level of give-and-take. Thus they are making an already enjoyable exchange even more enjoyable for the receiving end at no tangible benefit to themselves (besides the satisfaction of feeling like a good person).
I like this quote because it succinctly sums up my foremost theory on life: life is about reciprocity. You need reciprocity to feel all of the best feelings – love, happiness, acceptance, achievement, excitement, awe – mostly because you need someone to share these feelings with who will either reciprocate or appreciate them. I will surely elaborate on this philosophy in a later entry, so fear not if you are yet to be convinced. This philosophy, though I say it is on life, is mainly about human relations, which makes it so simple a concept that we often overlook it.
Think about it: can you feel love if you are not loved in return? Some may argue yes, but I would contend that it would be a very dissatisfying love. I mean, what if Juliet didn’t love Romeo? Romeo’s life would really suck – he has everything going for him (he’s rich, probably good looking), but he loves the only girl he’s not allowed to love and what’s worse, she doesn’t love him back! He’d spend the entire story throwing his life away trying to woo a girl who is off limits, doesn’t like him, and whose dad actually would cut his balls off (ok fine, probably just slay him in a duel) if he touches his daughter. So, he has no support from the Capulets, ok fine, this battle has been won before by less qualified contenders, but poor Romeo wouldn’t even have the support of his own family because all of the Montagues hate Juliet’s guts. Talk about a stupid story, it’s like a recipe for depression. Without Juliet’s reciprocity a timeless tale of the most ardent and true love becomes, for lack of a better word, lame.
Back to reality, would you value a friendship with a person that you do constant favors for but never wants to help you in return? No, there needs to be some form of reciprocity – a little give, a little take. Even if you do the friend a million favors and they never help you, BUT they are the funniest person you have ever met, they are still giving you something in return. You drive them to the airport; they make you laugh. This, although not a visibly identical exchange, could be an equal exchange as everyone’s threshold for reciprocity is different. Hopefully you understand why I place such value in the idea of reciprocity. I believe no one really does anything unless they are getting something back. People pray because they get faith and a sense of security in return. People give to charity because they get the satisfaction of feeling considerate. People do other people favors on the assumption that receiver will return said favor. People give candy on Halloween to other people’s children on the assumption that other people will give candy to their children. They also do it as a way to reciprocate past candy givers who gave candy to them when they were children. This idea of reciprocity is even active in the animal world (where do you think “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” came from, no one actually scratches other people’s backs on the reg, that’s for monkeys!). The expectation of reciprocity drives a fundamental part of every action we make. This quote however, takes it one step further, as if to say, “reciprocity may be what life is about, but giving more than is expected of you, just a little bit more, is the art of living.”
Ah, here we are friends: the art of living. If one were to perfect this skill there would be nothing left for them to figure out, nothing to drive them to keep on living besides the sheer joy of living each day and doing it well, no, doing it the best. Life would be one big Urban Outfitters advertisement or that one video of gorgeous models having the time of their life in Barcelona with no regard for money, responsibility, or the future! Alas, we all know this is not a plausible aim, but don’t fret. Radclyffe Hall is here to let us know, as she already knew back in 1928, that a tangible way to artfully live is by taking what you deserve, giving back what you took, and then giving back a little more. Do what Radclyffe suggests, be the abridged version of a “good” person, for she truly knew the value of reciprocity; she wrote a 441-page novel on the topic of loneliness.