The Emotional Bank Account

The first time I heard this term, it was in the ’90’s. Steven Covey, of 7 Habits fame, is credited with coining the phrase, but I’m sure the concept has been around for a while. Basically, it works like a bank account. You make deposits, you make withdrawls. The goal, like with your money, is to watch it grow. Everyone has lots of accounts – parents, children, spouses, friends, relations, the post man, the grocery boy, the coach, the waitress – all in various states of disarray. The Anchoress said, back in the spring,

All one can do – really – is try to hold on to one’s own capacity for kindness and see one’s humanity reflected in another.

What’s that old quote: Be kind – for everyone you meet is engaged in a mighty struggle.

In this age of GIMME-GIMME-GIMME, it is no wonder we are all on the brink of emotional bankruptcy. It is no wonder that mothers, especially, go out for a loaf of bread and run away to Bora-Bora. It is no wonder that people burn out so quickly. Kindness? What’s that? Respect? No way…

Here are a few examples of “deposits”:
* understanding the individual;
* attending to little things;
* keeping commitments;
* clarifying expectations;
* showing personal integrity;
* apologizing sincerely when you make a “withdrawal”.

And here are a few examples of “withdrawls”;
* showing discourtesy;
* disrespect;
* overreacting;
* betraying trust;
* not honoring commitments;
* threatening.

See a pattern? Got a teenager in your home? I bet you do.

Terry Bragg expanded on this in his book 31 Days to High Self Esteem, calling it the ‘Law of Reciprocity’:

1. People expect payment over time. Essentially it means that when someone does something for you, they implicitly expect that when the circumstance is right, you will do something of approximately equal value for them.
2. Acts must be mutually rewarding. A successful relationship requires that all people involved benefit from the relationship and invest in the relationship to make it better.
3. Deposits don’t simply accumulate. The deposit values can increase and decrease over time. Sometimes people forget the small deposits and only remember the large deposits for a longer period of time.
4. You can go in the red. You can wipe out all your deposits in one withdrawal by doing something that’s not in the best interest of the relationship.
5. You make deposits or receive credits by making favourable impressions on others – by doing things for them. Making deposits through courtesy, kindness, honest and respect and other favours. The favours can be small but they add up over time.
6. A history of reciprocity promotes trust. People will evaluate you based on your previous actions and motives.
7. Reciprocity is a very powerful form of power. The expectation of giving and returning favours creates an obligation for people to stick to agreements.
8. Reciprocity can be both negative and positive. If you are nasty to others, they will seek retribution to even the score. They want to do good to those that have helped them and do harm to those that have harmed them.

Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Golly, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

From the day they were born, you love them, nurture them, protect them, encourage them, sacrifice for them, mentor them. Many, many deposits, both large and small.

What is real? What is true? What is illusion? The Anchoress quotes Thomas Merton repeatedly (after all, look at her blog’s slogan!). In a way, he foresaw the alienation we all feel today. From life, from children, from work, from the bombardment of lies by the media, from the rude man at the gas station. Even the kindness of strangers isn’t that anymore.

A few weeks ago during my lunch hour, I was standing in line at a restaurant. The guy in front of me was a few cents short, so I dug down in my purse and gave the cashier a nickel. She smiled. He smiled. He thanked me and then promptly asked if there was more where that came from. The cashier’s smile disappeared immediately and she began to berate him in some urban dialect that I couldn’t catch a word of. He tucked his tail, took his lunch and left. In the meantime, everyone looked at me like I’d turned him into the principal.

Siggy says of respect (in a post on a completely different topic, but I think it applies here)

… real respect is accorded as the result of a dynamic, two way relationship. Real respect is also the other side of trust. Those attributes are earned- they are not bestowed. The current state of Catholic-Jewish relations is testament to theses truths. After centuries of mistrust, distance and even violence, the two faiths have found a kind of redemption.

Again, and bear with me here… Kindness – respect – trust – reciprocity. All deposits. In a good way, not a Godfather ‘some day I’ll ask you for a favor’ kind of way. Good in the way that it leads to growth. And that in turn expands the circle.

Why are teens, in particular, so intent on destroying the relationships around them? Is it the lack of support they get in school? Is it peer pressure? Media? MTV?

*sigh* Right now, my account is woefully overdrawn and Bora-Bora’s lookin’ pretty good…



  1. SC&A said,

    June 12, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    This is an excellent post.

    Lots of good ideas.

  2. Obi's Sister said,

    June 12, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks – for me, it is a wail of frustration!

  3. June 12, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    […] Me? I’m increasingly disillusioned with “left,” “right,” and the whole “if you disagree you’re my enemy” thing. I suspect others may be too, and with the whole lack of ordinary goodwill. […]

  4. June 20, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    […] 2007 at 4:51 pm (Hope and Sadness, Parenting, Blogs and Blogging, Faith) A couple of days ago, I wailed frustratedly about teenagers and their maelstrom of […]

  5. October 16, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    […] I wrote about The Emotional Bank Account. These men shared more than riches. They shared wisdom, respect and love. Yaacov says It is a […]

  6. Michele said,

    June 28, 2008 at 10:28 am

    I like this. I am just learning about this….Where was this when I was having my nervous breakdown….

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