By Mark Rockwell

I grew up in a farming community in Central Washington where my father was a dentist. His office was the “doctor’s home” across from City Hall, where my grandfather had previously been a medical doctor for many years.

We lived in the country outside of town. When I was in third grade I decided it was time to get a job. I am not sure why I came to this conclusion, it just seemed like the thing I was supposed to do. And besides . . . making $5.00 per month for a bazillion hours of work seemed like manly money!  Our neighbor’s farm was the best opportunity for real work.

For the next several years I got up early every morning, put on my striped overalls and black rubber boots, and walked up the county road to the Warmenhoven’s dairy. Bert Warmenhoven was a Dutch immigrant and a great role model. He took pride in his farm and livestock, and like all dairymen, he and his two adult sons worked seven days a week, morning and night.

The Law of Reciprocity

My job was to feed and water a dozen calves, and after the cows were milked, clean the milking parlor until it looked like new. In addition to making money (although that part was modest), I learned important principles such as “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”. You know, the law of reciprocity.

Many mornings, after I’d cleaned the barn, and Mr. Warmenhoven had washed the milking equipment, he’d yell out, “Let’s go sit on the stump.” That meant it was time to take a break.

I have fond memories of sitting on the stump near the milk house (the same one where many chickens lost their heads) while he scratched my back, and then I’d scratch his. All the while we shared stories, and I loved every minute. We both got something significant from our relationship, but it was different for each of us. If it hadn’t provided something mutually worthwhile, this morning ritual would soon have come to an end.

Great Relationships 

Think how easy it is to forget that both parties need to feel good about a relationship in order for it to last. If I call less often, stop expressing appreciation, or I no longer make the same level of effort, I’ve stopped “scratching.” And soon the relationship falters and fails.

This is true whether it’s a friend, colleague, customer, or spouse. Every relationship needs to be nurtured. To think otherwise puts the relationship at risk.  

Whose back have you stopped scratching, and what can you do to revitalize your relationship?