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Giver’s Gain

The term “Giver’s Gain” may not be familiar to you, but the idea behind it surely is. It refer’s to the belief that in business and life, if you give help to someone, with a genuine sense of concern for that person’s welfare, then the return you receive will be greater than that which you spent in helping the individual in the first place. You give, and you gain.

The phrase is very popular in some business circles, such that it is the core mantra of the global business networking enterprise, BNI. but even more than the stated phrase, the idea is one of the most important tenets behind much of what we now know as social networking, as well as, in many respects, open source and the free software movement.

People who give their time, ideas, and creations in these platforms and endeavors hope that their efforts will provide value to others. They (We) do so even though there is rarely any direct way in which we can benefit from these efforts. But the underlying belief is that ultimately we, too, will benefit from sharing, often with returns far greater than we measure our own contributions to the community.

While some of the applications of this belief may seem quite modern, I would argue that this way of thinking is the dominant way most people have interacted over much of human history. We seem today to believe that most people act primarily in self-interest. This may be true in terms of innermost motivations for human behavior, but in most tightly knit, non-ultra-urban communities, the best way to ensure selfish interests is to put group interests first.

But the overwhelming concept underlying contemporary capitalist society is a perverse reversal of this once predominant way of thinking. The corporate doctrine in modern times is profit at all costs. There is no other interest of a contemporary corporation, with a stockholding, non-managerial, board of directors, other than the relentless pursuit of profit. All other values are merely a kind of marketing profile to enhance the machine’s ability to profit.

But, surely, say the pundits, corporations have to do good things, make stuff, employ people, and enable the wealth to do the good that societies need. Capitalism, they say, won, because it is the only form of government to prove that wealth can be distributed to enough people to be even considered fair and just. And, thus, the notion “Giver’s Gain” is supplanted by the notion, “Gainer’s Give.” Like Bill and Melissa Gates, they give, in fact, more than anyone has given before! How nice.

I’m not just being cynical about this, but the best way to distribute limited benefits has never been to expect altruism from someone that hoards the wealth first. Any kindergarten teacher will say that it isn’t best to distribute 50 candies to 25 kids by giving them all to the most selfish bully among them. Or, to more accurately see what happens, give 40 candies to the bully, 10 each to two of his closest friends, and 2 or 3 to all but 5 of the kids. I’d be willing to bet that in most modern urban societies, without intervention, all of the kids would end up with at least 1 or 2 candies, but the bully and his inner circle would hoard the vast majority. It is not because they are “kids” either, but just the nature of the psychology behind hoarding as a prerequisite to distribution. Certainly You can replace the word hoarding with something else, like centralized resource management, but the results will be much the same.

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