Should You Treat Others How You Want To Be Treated Or How They Treat You?

The advantage of reciprocal altruism, which is when both parties help each other, is that both parties benefit in it.

In a ideal world, there would be no need for military because countries would always cooperate with each other.

The problem preventing this however, is that you will inevitably meet people who don’t have your best interest at heart.

In your life, you will encounter people known as free riders, people who will take advantage of you. These are people who you give to constantly, but they never give back in return. They only take.

You will also encounter people known as defectors, people who will betray you such as in your romantic relationships, friendships and business partnerships.

The question then is, how should you treat people you meet, knowing that some of these people are going to be free riders and defectors?

Do you treat others how you would want them to treat you or do you treat others how they treat you?

Growing up, you would always hear that you should always treat other people how you would want them to treat you. And to an extent, there’s truth to this idea. But what you find to be a better way of treating other people according to scientists is what’s known as game theory.

What researchers of game theory have found is that the most effective strategy in most environments for you and I to do socially with our friends, with people we date and with our business partners, is a strategy known as tit for tat theory.

What tit for tat theory says you should do is to be nice on the first round of interaction you have with someone, but then after that, do to that person whatever that person did to you on the previous round.

If they’re kind to you, be kind back, but if they free ride you, free ride back. If they defect on you, then defect on them.

You can’t just treat everybody how you would want them to treat you at all times.

In the book “Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science Of The Mind,” Dr. David M. Buss says,

“Cooperation coalitions can evolve as long as free riders are punished. Experiments show that higher levels of cooperation occur when a system is in place to punish.”

The reason you can’t be kind to everybody at all times is because cooperation between individuals only occurs when a system is put into place to punish.

If someone mistreats you, you cannot respond with kindness. You can’t reward people who don’t cooperate and who treat you poorly.

Now there are situations where you don’t always want to play tit for tat. If you’re in a room full of thieves for example, it’s probably not the best idea to be trustworthy and kind on the first interaction.

In general however, you want to start out optimistic. You want to treat others how you would want them to treat you on the first interaction, but then after that, on every subsequent interaction that you have with that person, do what they do to you.

But remember that tit for tat is also very forgiving. If someone starts to cooperate again, reciprocate the cooperation and get back to a state of mutual reciprocation.

Tit for tat is beneficial because it takes us way beyond kin altruism and it opens up the possibility of forming cooperative relationships and bonds with people who are complete strangers.


27 thoughts on “Should You Treat Others How You Want To Be Treated Or How They Treat You?

  1. one area where tit for tat does not work is marriage and the proof is the high divorce rate in this country. People change and so do their goals and when people grow in different directions it’s very hard to find a common goal. People have changing needs too so what they get from a relationship or job changes over the years making a need for change necessary and good.

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    1. In relationships, you should also use tit for tat. If you’re in a relationship and your partner is constantly giving to you and to the relationship, then you should reciprocate your partners love. If you’re in a relationship where you’re the one constantly giving to your partner and to the relationship and your partner isn’t giving back, then that’s probably someone you shouldn’t be giving to. You should talk to them about it first and if they still don’t give to the relationship after then you should reciprocate their free ride and not give back as well

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    1. Oh wow thank you I’m glad you liked it! Tit for tat theory has come up multiple times in the books I read and I love that idea so I wanted to try to write about it so I’m glad you thought that I did a good enough job explaining it, I appreciate that:) I’m happy I could give you some value:)

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  2. Sometimes I have troubles deciding what to do in these kinds of situations, but this describes it perfectly – I feel like this is the best way to go about it – very fair and it’s an effective way too 😀

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  3. Tit for tat is not successful tool. In many instances you can simply not interact with that person if they do wrong. In a family or work situation. Continue to be kind, but not giving. Most of all be aware of what they may be up to in their interactions and respond/react appropriately. But, most of all, never get sucked into their games. Keep your dignity.


    1. that’s the point of tit for tat. if someone is doing wrong and not giving back then you can’t give back to them either. When you say it’s not a good tool are you saying if someone treats you badly, you should still be kind to them? that I don’t agree with


      1. Some people say that the best revenge that you can do to a person who treats you badly is to “kill them with your kindness.”… and I agree. =) I still believe that sooner or later, they’ll realize how bad they’ve been and feel sorry for it. They may not necessarily let you know, though…

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      2. the problem with that though is you can get taken advantage of if you treat everyone nicely. it’s not realistic to think that everyone in the entire world is just going to be nice to you just because you are. as Charle Munger says, “avoid extreme ideologies.”

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      3. It depends actually…I think you can still be nice and refused to be taken advantage of at the same time… it’s like saying “No, thank you.” ☺… or perhaps it would depend on the situation and the type of people we’re dealing with too… I just want to believe that somehow there is still the good side of every person nomatter how bad they are. They just need someone to make them realize that. Nobody is born bad anyway…but then again, this is just my personal thought on the matter 🙂

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  4. Wow mind blowing. Love this, Firstly, thank you for coming a cross my blog, that lead me to your blog. Super interesting post. As a believer of Karma, sure you cant be kind to the thief, one HAS be wise, discerning , courageous and smart – I believe tit for tat – is just negative karma right back at you. When we can discern and if our intuition is in gear, we will know way before something negative is going to happen – cause we will feel the negative intention towards and that is our first warning, then in that situation one does the right thing by karma, and one doesn’t lose one’s inner peace if you need to stand firm you stand firm. Actually, my post It is just an Insult – back story quite related to this. Right ! I know it is not that easy. Words and theories are easy to say. Practical is hard. I keep practicing and you can have a few wins with this. Believe you me – i have been through a few emotional tsunami’s. As you might know from my about page – I meditate and follow the teaching or Raja Yoga Meditation, which is about being your highest self and being strong in yourself to be so emotionally and spiritually powerful that nothing shakes you… I know I know….. we are thinking no way it aint possible. Thoughts and feeling are in our control and we can have small wins leading to big wins…

    loved this post, going to read your other posts. Love your web page. I only started blogging on 7th March 2016 and just changed my theme today – semi happy with it. I am using free themes. But my new theme has no home page. any let it be for now.

    Thanks for connecting …sorry for the stupidly long comment. so happy to find a like minded blogger – you can see I am a newbie

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    1. haha no you’re okay, I loved the comment!:) I didn’t think of it before, but i can definitely see the similarity to karma:) If everyone did tit for tat, then those who treated others poorly would get treated just as poorly in return, while those who were kind and nice to everybody would be treated by kindness back so I can see that:) I’m glad I came across your blog too and I hope to read more of your posts:)) it’s nice to meet you:)

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      1. Hi Vincent, Tit for tat = Vicious circle in terms of Karma, and the world/society will spiral out of control – hey wait , hasn’t it. I think there is still a few of us on the right side of karma and values . Karma is huge, I am not an expert – but really trying to figure it out as I think that the way you can ensure constant happiness.. Karma can be positive but we all tend to focus on negative. I am sure one day – I will blog on it – not yet. I like have practical experience before blogging.

        It seems you have been blogging for a while, would it be later on (I am talking months away) i could ask for some advice? Assuming I don’t figure it out myself!

        good day. in sunny California. We have a good weekend of sun in London. If you have every been in london – you know why we make a fuss. We had winter like weather in April – aka spring. Global Warming – another example of karma.

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      2. oh so you’re disagreeing with the idea of tit for tat because you think it leads to a vicious cycle? And if you’re asking for advice on blogging, I would say read books on it. there are tons of people who have done this longer and better than I have who write in their books what you should do. books will cut the learning curve for you by years. you said if you don’t learn it on your own, but you don’t need to make your own mistakes to learn something. you can learn from other people’s success and copy them and learn from other people’s mistakes so you don’t make the same mistakes yourself, but you can ask me:) never been to London:/ I will visit one day:)


    1. I don’t expect people to agree with all my writings. I just hope for the readers to take the best ideas that work for them and leave out the rest. like Charlie Munger says,” avoid extreme ideologies” meaning you can never treat people how you want to be treated and you can never always treat people how they treat you. it’s a balance and it takes wisdom to know when to do one compared to the others.

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      1. I am.disagreeing here… just putting my confusions to be seen and felt… you never know someone may help me somewhere to understand things in life


    1. I think it’s important to just seek out knowledge. the reason I believe in tat for tat theory is because of the books I’ve read such as “the selfish gene” “The happiness hypothesis” and “Evolutionary Psychology.” they would explain it better than I ever could, but tit for tat theory is more so for bigger things not little details. like if you’re gf/bf doesn’t give to the relationship and you’re constantly giving all the time, that person may not be the person for you. tit for tat theory is good here. but just because you’re partner is mad at you for something one day doesn’t mean that you should use tit for tat theory and respond angrily back. it’s a great theory, but it takes wisdom when to use it and when not to.

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