Marcel Mauss, a sociologist, studied gifts in different cultures. His study led him to identify three obligations of gift giving that he believed were universal to all cultures. The first is the obligation to give. The second obligation is an obligation to receive. The final obligation is to reciprocate. If his theory is correct, then we all take part in these obligations.
These can obligations of the gift economy can be useful to our spirituality. We have an obligation to give energy, time, and things to the people in our lives and to our communities. These transactions are frequently so mundane and frequent that we don’t really think about them. In exchange for the things we give, we receive others. Sometimes, we are paid back in kind, while other times, we are repaid with different gifts, such as money in exchange for time or a thank you card for a gift. When we are fully immersed in the gift economy, we reciprocate all gifts, not always directly or presently, but in the end, all accounts balance.
My husband loved this idea when I brought it home from school one night. He told people about it. He applied it to his life. It helped to justify his worldview and cement his desire to help people, just because sometimes. My husband is also one of the least resentful people I have ever met. He gives because he can. He believes that doing good brings good into his life. I try to be like him in this regard. I believe in karma and this theory makes a lot of sense to me. I also see huge potential to transform how we think about our interactions with our culture using this framework.
If we think about these obligations as social currency, as ways of reproducing and taking part in culture, we can use these ideas to change our thinking about the ways in which we give ourselves away, a piece at a time. Try to think of those pieces of your time and attention as gifts that you willingly and loving send out into the universe. Remember that you have an obligation to receive gifts yourself, and then give new gifts to the world. Move towards feeling that we are equally giving and receiving gifts; this helps to prevent resentment. Some gifts are sent out and travel far from home before they are repaid. Others are reciprocated instantly. In the end, we all give, we all receive and we all reciprocate. Repetition and familiarity build relationships. Help someone out, and eventually help will find you when you need it.