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.

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