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The Value of Sharing: Caring and Reputation

In our blog “Rituals of the Hearth: Cooking as a Primal Connection” we already mentioned how cooking shaped human society. But it also shows a starting point, the point where we as humans started to get greater value out of sharing.

To this day humans share with not just those close to them, but also with complete strangers if we feel they deserve it. Areas hit by natural disasters always gather crazy amounts of donations, even though there is no direct benefit to those donating. Sharing seems to be ingrained into our very genetics, we feel for others and share what we have because it is “the right thing to do”.

It is strange to think that we are built to share, even when sharing becomes dangerous to ourselves. But especially when there is scarcity we share what little we have. However, there seems to be an intuitive order when it comes to deciding who we share with and who not.

First in line seem to be those that are part of our family. Your own children always seem to be in the very first spot, spouses, siblings and parents following closely after, with aunts, uncles and cousins behind them. Biologically a very sensible order as it improves the chances of our family’s survival (and often connected genes).

This makes it seem genetics are very important. However, in practice, it is very questionable how far they are actually involved because family bonding doesn’t always seem to take genes or even species into account.

An adopted child can often expect the same consideration as a biological child, whereas an estranged father can certainly forget being part of the family and many pets are on every level part of the family.

This may be a modern genetic mismatch because these cases hardly existed in prehistoric times or they are a simple side effect of our social evolution. Whatever it is, it is safe to say we choose who belongs to our family and feel a very strong urge to take care of those within and share what we can.

The second layer is what used to be the prehistoric tribe we lived in. Friends, (early relationship) partners, colleagues and neighbours most often fill those spots in modern times. Sharing among these people often is about caring for them. A friend can count on you to share your time and advice, a colleague can expect your help when working on a project and a neighbour may borrow some of your tools.

All acts of selflessness, that usually come from a place of caring for each other, just as a family. The difference however is that there often is an (unspoken) expectation to get back what you put in, even if we are unaware of it. It doesn’t need to be a one-on-one trade-off, but there has to be a balance. “I help you now, so I can count on some help from you when I might need it in the future, even if that day may never come.” An unspoken but universal truth between humans, when we share we need to be able to trust the other.

We all know at least one person who took advantage of the goodness of people around us and didn’t return the kindness. Who is that for you? I’m quite certain you don’t have a particularly good feeling about the person you’re now thinking about. Right?

That brings us to layer three of sharing: improving your reputation. Since the dawn of time sharing has also been a way to improve your reputation. An even grander scale of hoping that at some point you are repaid for sharing. Not directly by those you have shared with, but in the hope of getting the repayment through other ways.

Kindness, caring, dependability, helpfulness, generosity and many more are all qualities that we give to people based on how willing they share their time, thoughts and/or possessions, and it pays off.

“They are kind and dependable” is a reputation that can open doors for you, even with people who have only heard about you. That is of course, as long as you have a good reputation. Those who don’t share (be it their time, knowledge, food or other things) often get a bad reputation that just as well closes doors, even if they have never met the other person.

It often annoys me to see people sharing on social media how they give a homeless man a sandwich, even though it is very human. The people filming are sharing and wish to use their “kindness” to improve their reputation. What backfires is that their reputation is formed, based on that conditional kindness, and that’s a reputation you probably don’t want.

On the other hand, an internet personality like MrBeast who admits he needs the reputation (and views) to keep doing what he does gets more respect. He knows he is leveraging our empathy for sharing and he builds a reputation so he can spread more good deeds. His reputation becomes one of honesty within a broken system. That’s a reputation that opens doors.

Reputation deeply matters to people, not just for their egos but definitely also for improved survival. It opens doors, starts relations and depending on your reputation can keep you physically safe.

Having discussed these layers it is interesting to take one step back and get an overview because all three show some overlap.

  • We share with those that we feel deserve it, be it because of genetics, an unspoken social contract or because of their or our own reputation.

  • Because those people deserve it we are willing to go against our own interest (up to a certain point of course)

  • People can lose the privilege of being deserving almost exclusively by breaking that unspoken social contract

This is where sharing with strangers comes in because it is a very delicate personal balance. Does the stranger deserve your sharing or have they lost that privilege?

When a disaster strikes and threatens lives we often share what we can, those people deserve our help (they deserve to live) and didn’t break the contract. They just have bad luck. When it comes to an addicted, aggressive homeless person in front of your supermarket though, that balance may quickly shift.

Those that are “in” can count on the safety of the group, those that are “out” are doomed to depend only on themselves. Caring through sharing has to be one of the most human traits there is, sometimes transcending even the boundaries of humanity, shown by how often even animals are adopted into the “in”.

The value our primal being gives to sharing as you can understand is very high. Even if on a subconscious level it keeps us safer. This simple fact has been ingrained so far into humanity that it is close to impossible to be human without sharing, be it happiness, time or possessions.


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