There is a problem that’s so deeply embedded in our culture that most of us scarcely even notice it – or even realise it’s a problem – and it’s this: It hurts to be kind.
The more generous you are, the more you lose.
Imagine one day you take $1000 from your bank account and go and hand it out on the street. Undoubtedly you will bring a lot of joy to many of those lucky passersby – and you will probably feel good for that – but the problem remains: You will be $1000 materially worse-off than you were before. And, though you might not mind at the time, some day you might really need that money and, realistically, the chances of being reciprocated for your original act of generosity are practically nil.
Everyone instinctively knows this, which is why we tend to be selective about who we are generous with. We usually reserve our giving intentions strictly to close circles like family, friends and co-workers. Why? Because the chances of our generosity being later reciprocated in those circles is very much higher.
But is this really a problem, you ask? Isn’t this just the way the world works?
Well, I would argue that anything that impedes human kindness is most definitely a problem, especially when you consider that most of our social ills like poverty, greed and violence are all ultimately expressions of a lack of kindness. And of course, there’s no rule book for how the world works. We write and rewrite those rules everyday in our actions. So it follows that if there were some way to reward kindness rather than punishing it, the world would become a much kinder, safer place.
When I started Sharebay in 2019 I didn’t realise that this platform had the capacity to solve this problem. In fact, like most people, I had never even considered this problem before. I just wanted to offer people a way to share free goods and services. But over time, I’ve come to realise something very important about the Sharebay platform. And it’s not the fact that people give and get stuff freely or can find other like-minds to collaborate with. It’s the fact that’s it’s a closed community.
This is very important because it gives a familial context to the group. Let me explain.
When you live in a small autonomous community, you quickly come to learn who is doing more than their fair share of work and who isn’t. This knowledge shapes the group dynamic. We can’t help but compare ourselves and others when we exist inside a closed group. And you can’t do that, say, when you just walk out onto a public street. You don’t know anyone. There’s no reference. There’s no context.
Sharebay automatically provides a group context on a public platform. Though you may not know anyone, you can easily tell the givers from the takers because of Sharebay’s Transaction Record.
On the Transaction Record, every sharing act is logged, so for example, if you do me a favour, that’s recorded as a ‘give’ for you and a ‘get’ for me. On Sharebay, everyone’s got a number, and that number represents the amount of times you’ve given to others in the network. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that getting is bad. It’s not. But recording this information helps to build knowledge of people based on their type of participation in the group. How you use that knowledge is up to you. The important thing is that it exists, and it gives you the ability to make informed choices with strangers.
If you choose – as most people would – to share more with people who are prolific sharers themselves, then you are greatly increasing your chances of reciprocal acts in the future. And not just because of a person’s generous history, but also because you are forging a relationship with them in the process.
And this is the solution to the generosity problem: a ‘walled community’ of generous people that keeps a public account of generous acts. The ‘wall’ protects the community from outsiders who might seek to take advantage, while at the same has the ability to expand more and more until some day it either encompasses everyone, or is just not needed anymore as generosity becomes common in greater society. In other words, it starts with a small familial group and expands outwards.
And in case you’re thinking that true kindness seeks no reward or acknowledgement, I agree with you, but this is usually impractical in the long term. Many people have devoted their entire lives to the service of others with never a thought for themselves, and while I admire them for it, I don’t think that’s a healthy way to behave. Neither extremes of greed or destitution are optimal for happy humans. The middle ground is the sweet spot.
Can you imagine how different society would look if our standard measure of wealth was not how much you had taken, but how often you had given? How different would people behave if we were judged by our kind acts, and not our bank balance?
What’s the worst that could happen if we gamified generosity rather than punished it, as we do now?
A kinder, fairer world begins with people sharing more. But we need a safe space to do that. Sharebay provides that space.