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Generalized reciprocity: the giver is the true receiver.

A few days ago, I received a Christmas card in the mail. I’ve never met the sender before; she’s a renowned Tumblr user who spent an obscene amount of hours handwriting cards and sending them out to her followers. I don’t know many people who would do that. Her name is Anais, and you could read her blogs HERE.

Time for a lesson on reciprocity. This blog is getting educational now, wee!

In cultural anthropology, reciprocity is known as “people’s informal exchange of goods and labor.” Reciprocity then expands into three most basic types: negative, balanced, and generalized. Here are the definitions and examples of each:

Negative reciprocity: A person gives something and expects to be repaid immediately with something of equal value. It typically requires little trust and maximum social distance. Ie: Paying $5 for a meal and eating $5 worth.
Balanced reciprocity: A person gives something and expects to be fairly repaid at an unannounced time in the future. This is a very informal type of exchange. Ie: Giving wedding donations to the bride/groom and expecting them to do the same at your own wedding.
Generalized reciprocity: A person gives something and expects nothing in return. What makes this interaction “reciprocal” is the sense of satisfaction the giver feels, and the social closeness that the gift fosters. Ie: The things some parents do for their children.

So let’s utilize your new found knowledge in a one-question quiz! Anais used which type of reciprocity with me? Was it: A. Negative reciprocity B. Balanced reciprocity or C. Generalized reciprocity?

Anais spent a lot of time writing personal notes to each individual and using her own money purchasing the cards. She had nothing tangible to gain from this. I can’t read minds, but I’m sure she feels very satisfied for having done such a selfless act. She most certainly brightened up several peoples’ days when they received her card; I was amongst one of them.

I love the idea of generalized reciprocity. I try my best to only operate at that level. I do things for others because I want to, and the feeling of self satisfaction is more than enough to let me continue doing so. Conversely, if I’m feeling obligated to do something, chances are I will become hesitant and dissuade from it.

I give my time and goods to people whom I want to. To people who are worth my time and worth the goods.


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