Generosity and Reciprocity

Generosity and Reciprocity

It has to be said, that not all acts of generosity are the kind that generate reciprocity. It is possible to give, for its own sake, without an expectation of return.


As always, we start with a definition

a willingness to give help or support, esp. more than is usual or expected (my emphasis)

Cambridge Dictionary

And in a conveniently timed blog post, Adam Grant expressed his opinion about generosity, and the impact reciprocity has on it.

The crux being, not every gift, favour, or act of generosity needs any response aside from an expression of thanks. Some kinds of support are offered with no strings attached.

Grant says there’s a clear difference between taking and receiving.

Receiving is hard

Asking for help is hard. And it’s also hard to accept help.

As the recipient of help, we tend to assume the giver has noticed us struggling and decided we can’t cope. We need their help. We are objects of pity.

Maybe it’s true they’ve noticed us struggling, but it’s also possible they have no opinion about our ability to manage on our own. It’s possible they just love us and want us to live with ease.

You can see an extreme example when someone dies.

You feel sad for the bereaved, and you want to help them in some way. You might take them food, offer to sit with them, clean their house, or take them shopping.

Of course you understand at some level this will most likely happen to you, but in the moment, you aren’t expecting them to reciprocate when it’s your turn. You just want to give them a concrete expression of your compassion. To show you care.

Giving can be hard too

Simone Seol believes people’s general impression of generosity is to keep giving until you and your resources are exhausted.

For her, generosity is an act of power.

Even if all you have is a single bean, you can cut it in half and share it. Your act of sharing is an expression of your belief in yourself, and the power of your diety, or the universe, to take care of you.

An act of faith; you will be okay.

Generosity rules the day

I reckon, if you’re in doubt, you should be generous. There are plenty of people you can share with – start small and expand the scope of your sharing.

And yes. It’s true some will use your generosity to exploit you.

But I keep coming back to the parable of the drowning man.

How do you know you’re not some one else’s helicopter?

Photo of a bowl of tomatoes by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

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