December 10, 2014 Rainmaker

The circle of generosity . . . Who benefits?

The act of sharing can be extremely powerful. In fact, it can have a exponential effect on people. In the recent past, you may have heard stories of people doing small acts of kindness. They go something like this: one person buys coffee for the person behind them in line, the next does the same, and so on – with more and more people getting in on the act. But why would someone ever do this?

One reason might be the simple fact that if someone is kind to you, you will likely feel good and might be inclined to do something kind for someone else. I refer to this as the circle of generosity (a more technical term of this behavior has been called upstream reciprocity). Martin Nowak writes that, “This every day experience is borne out by experimental games: the recipients of an act of kindness are more likely to help in turn, even if the person who benefits from their generosity is somebody else.” Nowak argues that this misdirected act of gratitude, you help somebody because somebody else has helped you, alone does not lead to the evolution of cooperation, but it can evolve and increase the level of cooperation if it is linked to either direct or spatial reciprocity.

Common Change has been focused on cultivating circles of generosity (direct or spatial reciprocity, in Nowak’s words). Increasing the level of cooperation and collaboration in sharing with one another has its benefits.

A few benefits include:

  1. pooling money together with others illuminates an economy of abundance and opens up possibilities about how we might help
  2. collaborating with others lends itself to better decisions about how to give and reminds us that we are not alone
  3. advocating for what matters most to us increases engagement and empathy in our lives and relationships
  4. bringing what we have (resources, time, skills, & etc) together opens up a wider array of opportunities regarding how we each have something to offer
  5. intentionally inviting others to share in decision-making taps into the power of collective wisdom and co-creativity

The move from random acts of kindness towards giving with others, with a desire for cooperation and collaboration, is referred to as collaborative giving. Collaborative giving is more than sharing stuff or money as a group. It’s about discovering what each of us has to contribute. Rooting ourselves in collaborative giving is about seeking to discover and honor everyone’s contribution. By bringing what we each have we are able to give away more than money, we are able to share our (w)holistic self.

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