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.
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.