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The Reciprocity Game

Five activities for building reciprocity in small groups or crews from Richard Dennis Bartlett's "Courage Before Hope: A Proposal to Weave Emotional and Economic Microsolidarity
Or: What To Do in the Last Decade of the Anthropocene"

I know Richard Bartlett through Loomio.org and Social.Coop. I read this essay while reading Luis Razeto's manual for creating associative and solidarity enterprises. It is interesting that they share a basic approach: start from the solidarity group, not from money (capital). It also reminded me of the idea cited by adrienne maree brown: "organize at the speed of trust."

The Reciprocity Game

Building trust is not rocket science. It’s mostly about reciprocity i.e. building a track record of doing each other favours. Here are some versions of the reciprocity game I’ve tried. If you know some more, please share ‘em!

Level 1: Listening

Sit in a circle. One at a time, someone says something that is true for them right now, e.g. “I’m excited about x” or “I feel sad because Y”. All you have to do is pay attention, listen to each person in turn, then eventually you say something that is true for you. If everyone listens to everyone, congratulations, you all just earned 1 reciprocity point.

Level 2: Money

One person talks about (A) the work they do for money, and (B) the work that is most meaningful to them. Discuss together how they might bring A and B into closer alignment. Now, anyone can make a small gesture to help make this happen, e.g. share a new perspective, offer a design process or productivity improvement, make an introduction, encourage them to keep trying even though it is hard. If you offer something: hooray, 5 points for you. If you asked for something you need, hey! 5 points for you too! And BONUS! you both get an extra point for talking and listening with mutual respect and positive regard.

Level 3: Consistency

It’s pretty easy to do something nice one time and have a momentary surge of good feelings. If you really want to excel at the reciprocity game though, focus on consistency.

Either in a Partnership (2 people) or in a Crew (up to 8), practice meeting once a month (virtually or in person). Reflect on where you’ve been and envision where you might go next. (You can do this during or before the meeting.) Take turns to share your reflections.

Everyone gets 1 point for the first meeting, 3 for the second, and 5 points for every meeting after that. 5 points deducted for missing a meeting.

If you want a little more structure, here are some documented processes you can try:

  1. Feelz Circle (3 processes for sharing emotional care between friends/ comrades/ lovers)
  2. Care Pod (personal-and-professional development in small groups, a new practice in development at Enspiral, based on Intentional Change Theory)
  3. Stewardship (peer support system for Partnerships)
  4. The Elephants (long term personal development for Crews)

Level 4: Conflict

Now we’re getting into the harder levels. Conflict is a great way to strengthen ties. It goes like this: you do something thoughtless, or miscommunicate in a way that upsets somebody you care about. They get hurt. Then you apologise, take responsibility, and attempt to make amends. They listen and forgive. Woohoo! You transformed your conflict into greater connection: 10 reciprocity points each! Careful with this one though, because you lose 20 points each if you don’t find a mutually agreeable resolution.

Level 5: Co-owners

After you’ve played a few rounds of the earlier levels, you might be ready to play Co-owners. Start with an idea, maybe it’s a new tech platform or a community project or a commune. Maybe it’s a savings pool or lending circle or livelihood pod for sharing credit, income or savings with your trusted peers. Whatever the idea, find some people who want to work on it with you. Now, when you formally incorporate as a company or an association or co-op, whatever, share the legal ownership with a few people. Congratulations, 100 reciprocity points! Whatever happens, this relationship is going to form a part of your life story.