Is Do Unto Others… Done? And Other Social Cunundrums.

Whatever else was missing in my childhood, manners and certain principles were drilled into me. Always say please and thank you. Don’t reach across the table (fork to the hand kiddo) or talk with your mouth full. Do unto others… They hold as strong now as they did when I was young, and trying to figure out right from wrong. Frankly, to a fault. Because things have changed folks. It’s still best to not talk with food in your mouth (yuck) and please and thank you are always appreciated. But having an expectation that if you truly do unto others, as you would have them do unto you, is often an empty and self-destructive endeavor. If you’ve been reading for a while, then you know that I’ve talked a lot lately about the entire notion of expectations, and being attached to outcomes. It’s a sticky, sticky place for me. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever put my mind to, mainly because I just keep stumbling… right into those expectations.



A wise and caring person I know, has said to me too many times: “You are entitled to your labor, but not the fruits of your labor.” Honestly, when I first heard that phrase, I thought it was bogus. It sounded to me like a clever thing to say, but it didn’t gel with any of the things I’d been taught. Over time, that saying has become a true thorn in my side, as it’s repeated  each time I find myself disappointed or bumping up agains walls of expectation. It’s not fair, I’ve whined responded— over and over. It seems totally reasonable to me, that if I call a friend regularly and invite them to do things, they will return the favor. If I invite you to our parties, you invite us to yours, right? If I take the time to read another bloggers blog, regularly, they will check out mine. If I comment and give feedback, they will do the same. If I return your calls right away, and don’t use caller ID to avoid you, you will call me back too. Right? If I support you through your hard times (be it the death of someone you love, job changes, emotional stuff), you’ll have my back when my time comes. If I stay home, buy makings for s’mores, and allow you to have your friends over… you will be reasonably nice and responsive to me, when I need you to do things, right?! Ok, maybe all bets are off when it comes to one’s kids!

Maybe that many examples aren’t necessary. I’m sure you got it… without the list. Maybe I have an issue with passive-aggressive too? Maybe Clearly I’m not that good at this whole detachment thing, that’s for sure.  Alright, I suck at it; I want the damned fruit! I feel “entitled” to it. I do. I believe in do unto others, and generally, I try really hard to do the best that I can unto others. The problem is that it hasn’t really played out the way I expected. The way I felt entitled to. For the record, I am a lucky woman. I have very good friends, and many people who love me. Those I count as close friends, have been just as thoughtful, just as committed to me, as I am to them. That’s why we’re close friends. My fruit has been abundant. I do know that.

So why do I find myself stuck on the trees that don’t bear fruit? Instead of celebrating the good, I get overly focused on those who have not “done” in return. I stay hurt over things that I really should let go of. I dissect outcomes and worry about what I could have done better; what I should have done differently, and why things didn’t turn out how I wanted or hoped for.  I turn myself inside out, trying to figure out things that have no real reason. I find myself saying, over and over, but if I did A, why is there no B?  I know I should let things go, and I get the idea that if I choose to do those things, I can’t then expect the same in return. Do unto other has kind of passed out of fashion. We’ve become a culture where these principles just don’t apply as much anymore.

Our kids will always be our kids. If you think they’re your friends, I believe you’re missing something. It’s they’re job to be a little selfish when it comes to the boundaries between you. Whether your kids are the type who work to do nice things in return, and aim to please, or they do their own thing: which more often involves not considering your desires, they are not your friends. A good friend who has a really “good relationship” with her kids, now in their 30s, recently told me: “I thought we’d get past the mom-kid thing and be friends, at a certain stage. Now I’m seeing that that never really happens. Ultimately, they always look to you to be the parent, even when the playing field seems level.” Her point was an interesting one, and hits to the crux of my issue. Like me, my friend is entitled to her labor: listening to and supporting her adult child through some difficult times, but she is not entitled to the fruit of that labor: having that same child return the support, when Mom is going through her own life issues. Her daughter is not able to fully empathize or be there, she has her own expectations: those of a child who wants their parent to be a parent.

There are fruits you can eat, and some you can not.

There are fruits you can eat, and some you can not.

Friends and acquaintances don’t always follow through the way we hope they will. If you continue to invite someone to be a part of your events, when they don’t invite you in return, you are left to decide whether your expectations are realistic, or whether you let go and accept things as they are. There are people who just don’t return calls well. What you put out is not what always comes back to you. I’m working on accepting that, and letting it go.

Letting. It. Go. That is the biggest challenge. It’s one thing to see the pattern, but another to move past it and let go. It’s the part that’s sticky; it’s where I get stuck (read that post too).  Accepting that you’re not entitled to the fruit is the real challenge. You’re lucky if you get it, but you can’t expect it. It’s often self-defeating to do things hoping for a return.  Expectations, when attached to motivation can be toxic. All of it is a hard lesson, for me, but I’m working the program; I’m working on myself.

“Change is a funny thing. Not everyone can handle it. It can sneak up on you. You’re whole world is transformed. You realize that the ground beneath you has shifted. Things are uncertain. And there’s no turning back. The world around you is different now.” (GA)

When we work on change, the world does shift. It can be uncomfortable at first, but when things begin to fall into place, it gets easier. As I work on change, I’m trying not to be attached to the outcomes. I’m working on noticing the positive things, and letting go of the negative. It’s hard, hard, hard, but change is gonna do me good!  So, I’m focusing on doing unto others… in a way that’s right in my own mind, not as I hope will be done in return.

Tell me what you think. Is this a sticky spot for you as well? Or are you the kind of person who doesn’t worry about expectations? Leave a comment and tell me.  Check out Tales From the Motherland on Facebook, and hit like.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
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42 Responses to Is Do Unto Others… Done? And Other Social Cunundrums.

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    One of the biggest things I preach to my kids is the golden rule. But I tell them, just because someone doesn’t reciprocate doesn’t mean you don’t still practice it. Up to a point that is. There’s a difference between being kind and helpful and being a doormat. I suppose it can be tricky to know where that line is sometimes.


  2. veronicad1 says:

    I believe in the “do unto others” principle, too–and teach it to my kids, as well. I like that external show of appreciation for doing good–call it my need to please. When someone seems to not appreciate me or my efforts, I do get hurt. Hubby reminds me often: “Not EVERYONE is going to like you”. He’s right and I don’t like to hear it but I need to. So I think I completely understand what you’re saying today–entitled to my labor but not necessarily (?) the fruits of it. (see–I couldn’t even type that without the “necessarily”)


    • Veronica, I do think it ultimately stems from a need to please, but it’s easy to get hooked on the outcomes. I think it’s a very slipper slope, and while I try to teach my kids the importance of helping others, etc, I also try to remind them not to get too attached to those efforts. (Do as I say, not as I do… healthy in this case!) Tough issue.


  3. We’ve certainly experienced letting go and altering our expectations. Yes, lots of sweet and sour fruits out there to keep us balanced.


  4. perhaps the thing to learn from this is that you do things for your own pleasure,and because u want to and so u wont need to be reciprocated.
    this also means that for parents, u dont have to please your children all the time and fulfil their every wish.
    and as for friends, it means u can say no. and your friends can also say no to you, and still remain friends.


  5. Ugh! Haha!
    I think that the idea of ‘doing the right things for the right reasons’ comes into play, here. If your motivation is to ‘get’ in return, to have things reciprocated, or to be rewarded, then I think we’ll always come up short. But if we do things because we WANT to, no strings attached, then our motivation is pure and we won’t be disappointed.

    So if someone asked me to do them a favor, and I didn’t feel like doing it, I should say, “Sorry, try someone else.” (icky, I know) If I said yes, because I thought my friend would expect me too, or not like me if I didn’t, etc. then I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons and maybe I’d end up resenting her later? If I truly wanted to do the favor then I should- but the motivation has to be pure.

    “In order to have congruence our actions must reflect what we truly think and feel.” This is a very sophisticated, high level emotional task. I’m with you, friend, it ain’t easy to be so pure with our motivation, especially when we grew up believing in all the rules of proper social etiquette. I think it’s worth the climb, though. The view from that height must be pretty spectacular. I’d love to feel perfectly congruent, wouldn’t you?
    Great post, it really got me thinking…


  6. Lyssapants says:

    This theme really hits home for me. I am constantly reminding myself not to get hung up on expectations.
    I had the thought while reading that you may experience those good deeds, nice gestures coming back to you, just not in the way you might have expected.


  7. Maryanne says:

    I had to reread the “fruit entitlement” quote a few times before it sunk in. I get it now. Letting go of expectations for others to behave in a way we think they should based on our actions is tough. I think I’m getting better re not doing things in the hope of reciprocity. If I do something nice or good for someone else (judgement here!), that’s enough. But, I hear you…it hurts to feel left out or slighted or not feel appreciated. I have ruminated many times on what I might have said or done “wrong” and it’s hard to let that go at times.


  8. what came up for me as i read your piece was the mutability of it all—one day it might be one thing to us, for us, another later time–could be years or decades, it could be a whole other thing, and it’s like the earth just cracked open or that mountain we’d built our lives upon was just a mirage….


    • Could not agree more. Was just reading some old diaries, for some research on a novel, and could not believe it was me! I felt some mountain melting for sure. It’s all a journey, but it’s so damned easy to forget that sometimes!


  9. I remember reciting the Golden Rule to my children, until I saw how inexorably linked it was to expectations or desired outcomes. I switched to invoking Givers vs. Takers. I told my girls, “As Americans you have already been blessed with more than your share of the world’s goodies. One of your life’s tasks is to determine if, in the end, you gave more than you took?”
    If we give without taking (without expectation of some return), we add to the Giver side of “Life’s balance sheet.” This is the ‘service model’, serving others because we can. The flip side of that is the ‘business model’, getting a return on our investment (ROI). One is self-less. The other is self-ish. If we place others above our self, it helps us decide how to approach or react to others. Anyway, that’s my philosophy. I am still striving to come out ahead on the Giver side. It’s not easy.


  10. For me, personally, life (especially over the past few years) is about growth. It’s interesting to see people and their process. (My Mom didn’t really grow as a person). Kudos to you and your process.

    I find that if I have certain expectations of how something should go, it’s my need to control. And for me, whenever I feel the need to control something or someone, it’s always based in some sort of fear- that they don’t like me and I’m not good enough. Once I follow the thread and find that nugget, then things shift in a moment with no struggle. (You just inspired a blog post! Thank you!!)

    I have also seen that if I can let go and give it to grace, often times what comes is better than my own expectations. As for what we consider common courtesy, yes, the times they are a changing. But hopefully, being considerate to one another will never go out of style. May you continue to move closer to, and further into peace.


    • Thanks Mariner. This is wise advise and you have really touched on an important kernel: control. Such a big tangled ball of issues, eh? Control is a biggie! Along with letting go, it is the key to… everything, perhaps. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom, and I’m so glad you found your post in there too. 😉 I look forward to reading it.


  11. sarafoley says:

    Hey, really interesting post and comments. I don’t have the same issues exactly that you are talking about here – I more subscribe to Grippy’s philosophy of only doing things that resonate with me, or feel right to do. That way i do those things because I want to do them, not because I am expecting something back. However, I have been considering (a new post?) disappointment and how it has appeared in my life lately, to do with people that i feel sold me an image of what they were like and then manifestly were unable to live up to it. It was one of my themes last year, and I am still having trouble with it. It’s also to do with expectations,which were mine and nothing to do with them. Still. It’s much nicer to have no expectations and be pleasantly surprised! Also, I was thinking, just because your nice and considerate behaviour isn’t reciprocated by the person that it was shown to, it still gets thrown into the mix, the ‘karma bank’ if you like. Like when you let someone in, in traffic, that person may then do the same for someone else etc, so you have had an impact 🙂


    • Yes, all of the issues of what we expected in relationships and how things turned out, is part of the package. I imagine Grippy would agree that she invested a lot in family stuff, and it has been heart breaking that it turned out very differently. Most of us would have expected a different fruit from that tree! 😦 I love that you are working on doing things that are right for you (your guest house) and thinking about these things. It’s hard to be true to ourselves and not get caught up in others’ expectations and needs. A circle. Chasing my tail sometimes.


  12. etomczyk says:

    Solid post Dawn. I think we all wrestle with the same things to varying degrees. It’s all about growth. I’m learning to tarry with people for a season but if they screw me over, I brush the dust off my feet, learn from it, and keep on keepin’ on. At least that’s how I see it. All the best.



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