I’ll scratch your back and I’ll scratch mine

At my all-boys grammar school, only the smartest were invited to study Latin, so the nearest I’ve ever been to the subject is when I’ve used ‘pretend Latin’ (the kind which starts ‘Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet’) for mocking up designs that need areas of dummy text.

It doesn’t stop me being curious about Latin phrases, however, which the other day had me thinking about ‘quid pro quo’, literally ‘this for that’.

You give me a dollar and I’ll give you this bag of potatoes. You work these hours for me and I’ll pay you this wage. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

The idea of trading one thing for another is pretty embedded in life, one way or another, so much so that one might be tempted to think that there is nothing in the idea of ‘something for nothing’.

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In fact we’re led to believe that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, an adage with its roots in 19th century American saloon bars which offered free food if you bought a drink. The trick, of course, was that the ‘lunch’ largely consisted of salty food – encouraging customers to buy more drinks. Steady with those peanuts, barman.

The truth, of course, is that most of us do indeed do things for others with no expectation of anything in return. Why would we do this, though? One explanation is that humans, it seems, are hard-wired for altruism. It’s in our genes. Another is that we generally get a buzz from lending a hand to someone else. Maybe the two concepts are related? Other instinctive behaviours are associated with pleasant feelings, and this of course encourages us to indulge in them.

When you do things for others, it leads to the world being a better place. It also provides you with a healthy dose of the feelgood factor.

So maybe you’ll get an opportunity to put this into practice today? Or, as Google Translate suggests that my school Latin teacher might have said: ‘An hoc in praxi locum habere te hodie?’

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