Reciprocity is more than just simple give and take – it’s about co-creating environments and conditions that work for all involved.
There are many examples of reciprocity in nature – take the hermit crab and the anemone, for example.
The hermit crab lives in vacated shells of whelks or other mollusc. One species carries a large pink anemone on its shell so that when octopi or fish – who like to feed on the hermit crab – approach, the anemone shoots out it brilliantly coloured tentacles, and stings the intending predators.
This is a good example of living co-operation as the crab returns the compliment to the anemone, which feeds on the droppings and discarded food of the crab. When the crab needs to move to a larger home, it gently detaches the anemone and takes it along.
In human society, just as in nature, reciprocity creates an actual environment. Once this environment is created all manner of new and wonderful things can happen and the co-operation we need to learn in order to survive and prosper will get a real chance to take hold.
Apart from the obvious, the difference between us and hermit crabs with their anemone companions is that we have free will. We get to decide what to do, and in our efforts to do what is best for ourselves we can think that acting only from self-interest will be the most advantageous. This isn’t true.
Like the anemones and the crabs we share our planet. Whether we like it or not we are interconnected. As well as being undeniably cousins according to our genome, we are all now living in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller. We are very much a hugely extended family, living together in the same place, interconnected even when we don’t get on.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just work out how to get along?