In cultural anthropology, reciprocity serves as the major foundation of any successful, social relationship. Returning a favor or finding equal exchange for goods levels the playing field and builds trust. In short, reciprocity makes relationships mutually beneficial. What is interesting is that this seems to be the case no matter what culture an individual ascribes to. It is a social trait that has evolved to be essential for large-group interactions.
Generosity, however, has a very different purpose. Generosity is fascinating, because for all intents and purposes, it is not practical. Giving away more than you have, either emotionally or materialistically, results in no direct, practical benefit. Despite the apparent lack of necessity, our brains are fascinatingly wired to produce positive feedback whenever we do something considered generous. Whether or not there are any returns, our brain feeds off of that act like a bee feeds off of a flower.
Generosity is in all of us; we are wired for it. The urge to give and be kind is a universal trait. Unlike greed, it builds up societies, nourishes them, and encourages growth.
It is amazing what a simple act of generosity can do. As a poignant example, let us take a look at the growing white supremacist movement within the United States.
Meet Christian Piccioli. Christian grew up on the southside of Chicago. His parents were Italian immigrants, and although they worked hard to put food on the table, they had little time to devote to their son. He grew up emotionally starved and sorely misunderstood. At the age of 14, an age he remembers as being the most confusing, lonely and desperate time of his youth, he was approached by a member of the Neo-Nazi movement. This man offered Christian acceptance, a community, and a reason to feel angry and isolated. Soon, this young 14-year-old boy became an active member and leader of a Nazi hate group. He enacted violence on others purely for the color of their skin. He was angry, lost, and this group provided a focus, an excuse for that anger.
Fast forward 20 years and he is travelling the nation convincing Neo-Nazi members to leave the movement, actively dismantling what he helped build. Christian was inspired to drop the toxic, hate-filled lifestyle by a simple act of generosity from a kind soul who saw through his anger. Now, he gives the same to the men he convinces to leave, a simple act of kindness that forever changes their lives. Even for those who do not understand generosity and often times deserve it the least, that simple act can change their entire reality.
(Christian’s Ted Talk linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSH5EY-W5oM)
Generosity strips away the walls we and society build around us, and for a moment, allows two individuals to be just…people. It breaks through previous misconceptions and realities, nourishing strong relationships where society may have not allowed them to grow.
There is a reason reciprocity and generosity are universal human traits. They speak to the deeper desires of being human and fulfill some of the most fundamental components of happiness: relationships and sense of belonging. It is a beautiful trait, one that must not be underestimated for its simplicity and power.
Written by Emily Griffin-Wetzel