Thursday, January 31, 2013

Reciprocity – Like Water to Fish, Part Seven

Bob Fiske

Reciprocity – Like Water to Fish, Part Seven

CLICK HERE to go to Part Six

Using the Noble currency.  In the last section I introduced the Noble, a new unit of currency that is the antithesis of conventional reciprocity-based currency.  The point of the Noble is to give something away without expecting anything in return.  The hope is that the favor so performed will inspire the recipient to pay the benefit forward to someone else.  The back side of the Noble is designed with multiple pay-it-forward lines.  Thus, favors can be paid forward through a series of people.  There are two points I can make about the usage of Nobles.

First, what is the experience of Person A giving a Noble to Person B.  If I give this card to Person B, then I am “putting myself out there”.  I am declaring that I am available for doing a generous act of some kind without knowing in advance what that act will be.  This can be a little bit threatening.  Do I really want to commit myself in such a way?  What if the person asks me to do something unreasonably difficult?

One answer to this fear is indicated by the phrase on the bottom of the front of the card.  It says “For example, one hour of my time”.  This will, hopefully communicate that the recipient should make a reasonable request of the giver.  Another answer might be as follows: everything is open to negotiation.  For instance, I could say to Person B, “I’m sorry, but that is more than I can do right now.  Here is what I am willing to do for you.”  A third answer might be to remind the person that he or she will have to pay forward a favor of similar magnitude.  In other words, suppose Person B asks me to buy a car.  If I agree to do this, then I would be within my rights to suggest to Person B that he or she will have to buy somebody else a car in the future.

I am sure that a lot of people reading this might be thinking, How do I know that I can trust the recipient of the card to act honorably and pay the favor forward?  Let’s face reality.  You don’t know.  Giving a Noble is an act of faith in the goodness of the human species.  Yet, we know that there are people out there that don’t act nobly and who take advantage of others.  Now, isn’t that the way of the world?

What I mean is this.  If we start with the presumption that everyone is a criminal, then our behavior will sink to that level of selfishness.  However, if we want to bring out the best in people, we’ll probably get there faster through the positive assumption of goodness than the negative assumption of criminality.  It takes a certain degree of character to make yourself an example through your actions, especially when it does not appear to be the popular thing to do.  It takes a measure of nobility to act that way.

Please remember one thing.  By using the Noble currency, you are not trying to change another human being.  Rather you are trying to change yourself.  But, if it makes you feel better, then just pass the card to somebody to whom you feel kindly disposed.  In other words, give it to somebody you trust, like a friend.

Here is the second point I can make about this card.  Because there is room on the back side to list multiple names and pass this card around, each Noble has a life!  I find this exciting.  The currency will record its own history of being used.  Imagine getting a Noble that has lots of names on the back.  Wouldn’t that convince the recipient that this idea was valued by a group of people?  Wouldn’t that make the recipient feel like part of a living chain of people with an idea and an action?

Epilogue.  In this essay I have described an idea that I found.  Or maybe it found me!  Not only that, this idea consumed me!  And therefore, I felt it was worth sharing with others.  I have tried to express the idea as a sequence of thoughts and to make a clear argument.  My hope is that you find this essay to be persuasive, even compelling.

Maybe I didn’t succeed in doing that.  Maybe you still have reservations.  In that case, I have just a single suggestion for you.  Do a small act of nobility.  The next time you get a nickel back as part of your change at the store, put that coin down on the sidewalk for someone else to find.

Want two final questions to chew on?  Think carefully!  Are you willing to do a favor for a person, any person?  More importantly, can you find it within yourself to allow someone to do a favor for you—and not repay the debt back to that person?

Summary of Part Seven.  Having put forth the Noble as a new currency, we consider two questions.  First, is it safe to use this currency?  Will others take advantage of your generosity?  Some suggestions for diminishing this risk are stated.  However, the ultimate answer is that using the Noble is a way to change yourself.  The second question approaches this from a different angle: a Noble shows its users.  The aim of the new currency is to change human behavior, one person at a time.  Seeing a list of names on the back of a Noble can communicate motivation to the recipient of a Noble: if these people are acting differently, then maybe I can, too.  Some final thoughts hinge on the ideas of choice and willingness.  To change my behavior is, first and foremost, a choice to do something different, something unusual and uncomfortable.  I pose this discomfort as two parting questions that dare the reader to examine his or her willingness to try on the uncomfortable notion of giving and receiving favors.

CLICK HERE to go to the abstract of this essay.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reciprocity – Like Water to Fish, Part Six

Bob Fiske

Reciprocity – Like Water to Fish, Part Six

CLICK HERE to go to Part Five

The Idea. Everything I have written so far has been a preamble to a simple idea.  Here it is: NOBILITY IS THE ABILITY TO GIVE SOMETHING OF VALUE WITHOUT RECEIVING ANYTHING IN EXCHANGE.

This is a very restricted definition of the words “noble” or “nobility”.  (Go ahead, look them up.  I did.)  In spite of this selective use of the term, almost every person to whom I have offered this definition seems to understand it.  This appears to be a self-evident idea to a lot of people.

Let’s take the idea one step further.  If we have built an economic system predicated on the preservation of reciprocity, could we build an alternate economic system based upon its opposite?  This is what I am proposing that we do.

The rewards for doing so would be twofold.  First, this alternate economy would allow us to reclaim a part of our humanity that has been allowed (some might say forced) to atrophy.  Currency, as it turns out, is an effective means of conditioning us to accept and use certain values.  Conventional monetary currency enforces values and behaviors consistent with taking, amassing and hoarding.  That is because the value of money is measured by how much of it you have.  Alternatively, a different kind of currency, one based on the value of giving rather than getting, would shape a set of behaviors that monetary currency tends to suppress.

To elaborate, I often hear people who are not “wealthy” (by current society’s standards) criticize people who have a great deal of money.  The term they use many times is “greedy”.  This is an easy trap into which one might fall, one that I even find myself falling into now and then.  However, there is a different way to narrate a story that contrasts the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

I find it plausible to regard wealthy people as not greedy.  The vast majority of them did not set out to become successful at a skill named greed.  They probably wanted to achieve a sense of self-worth, or maybe they wanted to achieve high esteem in the eyes of others, or maybe they wanted to be comfortable, or maybe they simply had a knack for amassing money in some fashion.  These people do not wake up in the morning and thank the Lord for making them greedy.

Instead, let us imagine that “wealthy” people were handed a tool set for achieving goals.  Included in this tool set was a deep value of reciprocity and a monetary currency that would provide an external measure of value.  Guess what?  The tools you have go a long way in determining how you proceed to solve life’s problems!  If you were to give people a different tool set (based on giving rather than getting), you would see a lot of behaviors that the current economic system does not nurture.

The second reward of establishing a non-reciprocity-based currency or economy is more speculative.  By engaging in acts of nobility, I believe that we will naturally begin to repay the numerous and substantial loans that we have taken from the earth and its inhabitants.  Can I guarantee such an outcome?  Of course not.  However, the exploration that I undertook to question our dominant value system and propose an alternative was clearly motivated (in my mind, at least).  I recognized that something in our value system and economic system was preventing us from acting faithfully toward our true benefactor, the earth (and the systems of nature that are so plentiful upon it).  Therefore, I propose this “new economy” with a clearly stated goal of repairing the earth and reshaping each human being into a willing and good steward of the earth’s welfare.

In short, living according to a noble value system will accomplish two lofty goals at the same time: generosity and sustainability.  An interesting side-effect might also occur, namely, an enhancement of self-worth.  A monetary economic system rewards you for creating external evidence of accomplishment.  A generosity-based economic system has an internal source for self-worth, one that is intrinsic to the act of giving.  Generosity makes people feel good about their actions and about themselves.

The Noble: A New Unit of Currency.  Suppose the idea of nobility mentioned above were converted into a new kind of currency.  This unit of currency would represent giving and generosity, not taking and accumulating “wealth”.  So, if people adopted this unit of currency, the idea would be to give it away.  This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the form of currency being used today in which the goal is to amass as much of it as possible.

I have decided to call this new unit of currency “The Noble”.  This reflects the intention behind its use, namely, to act nobly by giving instead of getting.  Here is an early concept that I created to demonstrate the idea.

This is a two-sided card.  (If you imagine folding the card along the middle vertical line, you’ll see that the right and left parts end up on either side of the card.)  The front shows the unit of currency and paraphrases its meaning as the idea of doing a favor for someone.

The back side of the card is labeled “PAY IT FORWARD”.  The idea of paying it forward is growing more common in American parlance.  The idea, though not original with her, was popularized by Catherine Ryan Hyde in the novel Pay It Forward in 2000, and later in a movie based on the book.  Many people who have spoken or written about the pay-it-forward idea think of it simply as passing on a deed of kindness to someone else.  This is accurate, although my use of the idea fits into a somewhat larger view that rests on an understanding of a value system.

The reason for the pay-it-forward idea on the Noble currency is to offset a common response to doing something in the spirit of generosity.  Many of us react to an act of kindness done to us by wanting to repay the favor.  This is exactly in line with the dominant system of reciprocity that I have been discussing.  However, if the goal is to establish a new value system as an alternative to reciprocity, then the recipient of the favor must resist the urge to repay.

The back of the card is a reminder that an appropriate response to receiving a kindness from a person is to pay it forward.  Do a kindness for somebody else.  This is how we break the cycle of reciprocity that has been so effectively programmed into our psyches.  You will notice, then, that the card is first given by Nancy to Sarah.  At some later point in time, Sarah passes the card to Ellen.  Later, Ellen does the same thing, and so on.

Summary of Part Six.  NOBILITY IS THE ABILITY TO GIVE SOMETHING OF VALUE WITHOUT RECEIVING ANYTHING IN EXCHANGE.  Could we use this idea as the basis for a revised economic system?  That is hard to know in advance, however, in an optimistic manner, I propose a new kind of currency for testing the idea: The Noble.  This currency incorporates two ideas: doing favors and paying a benefit forward.  If conventional monetary currency compels a value system that promotes taking, then a new currency could compel an opposite value system, one based on giving.  I propose that, from such a currency, a revolution of human nature might emerge.  This revolution would result in individual self-worth as well as responsible stewardship of the earth.

CLICK HERE to go to Part Seven.