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059 Kindness and Reciprocity

The Altruistic Capitalist recently celebrated its first anniversary –a year since its publication. I pledged to donate 100% of the net proceeds from the pre-sale campaign to students affected by COVID-19. During the book's development, students struggled to attend school and continue their education, particularly in less developed countries, as the world went into strict lockdown due to the pandemic. The lack of space and laptops affected students from lower-income families more than their affluent counterparts who had access to these and even private tutoring.

Since then, schools have been back in session. Still, I chose to donate all net proceeds to non-profit organizations that help students stay in school.

Pay It Forward

I believe that giving to others in our community ultimately helps us all. A well-intentioned act of kindness tends to be reciprocated or passed on, starting a cycle of Paying It Forward. Being nice to someone without expecting anything in return leads to happiness and personal satisfaction. But I think there is more to it than just good vibes.

When we help members of our community who can’t help themselves, we create a social good that may not be easily quantified in numbers or may not be tangible at first glance. Nonetheless, such acts have long-term value and far-reaching effects.

The long-term value comes from gratitude felt by the recipient. Gratitude, described by Georg Simmel as “the moral memory of mankind”, perpetuates the interactions between human beings. The recipient of a gift feels compelled to respond with an act of kindness of their own, whether or not to the giver of the gift. In the movie Pay It Forward, we see a young boy perform three kind deeds and follow the chain effect of his acts on others. The characters' interactions with each other could be bucketed into giving, receiving, and repaying.

The sense of obligation to reciprocate felt by the recipient should be preceded by a gift given freely without expectation of anything in return. In a commercial transaction, such as at a store, the recipient doesn’t feel the need to reciprocate or do more than pay for the good. While the recipient may still feel gratitude for good food and service at a restaurant, there is no feeling of duty to reciprocate the kindness that accompanies that gratitude.

Gratitude and Reciprocity

Random acts of kindness that create this need to reciprocate tend to have a viral effect. People imitate prosocial behavior, so when we receive or perceive kindness, we tend to feel more generous and behave more kindly towards others. Think about tip jars at a local coffee shop or donation baskets that are passed around – we tend to give as much or more when we see others give.

My work through writing The Altruistic Capitalist and Actv8 Network has helped me see the longer-term and broader effects of supporting a young person’s education and mentoring in general. As part of Actv8 Network’s activities, female students from underprivileged communities are mentored by professional women in their career paths and academic choices. Often the women go over and above their duty to help these students, for which the students are grateful.

Photo by Christina on Unsplash

The students generally don’t have the opportunity to repay or reciprocate the kindness directly to their mentors. But I’ve observed the kindness paid forward in different ways. A few students returned to the program to become mentors themselves, passing on the wisdom they learned to younger students. One student told me that since starting the program, she has been more patient and helpful with her younger sister, who has a mental illness at home. Another decided that she wanted to return to teach at her school and help the next generation of students achieve their ambitions and become more independent and resilient.

All the student participants in the Actv8 Network program reported improved grades and focus in class, ultimately landing hard-earned places in undergraduate programs. They will undoubtedly have successful careers in their chosen paths upon graduation, contributing to a more creative and productive community. They will be a resource rather than a burden to the economy and likely experience upward socioeconomic mobility. These students may also inspire others in their community, leading to a more inclusive and equal society.

Mutual Economic Benefit

The initial act of kindness that is paid forward and results in economic benefit for society follows a long chain. We want immediate gratification for our actions, and the impact of kindness is not always immediately apparent. We tend to donate to emergency relief where we can see suffering alleviated immediately. Companies tend to work more with universities than primary schools because university students are closer to entering the workforce. But even if we can’t see the immediate effect, we should believe that giving to education and causes that reduce poverty and homelessness leads to mutual economic benefit. Happier communities with high solidarity lessen the burden on our healthcare and social welfare systems.

Photo by Mei-Ling Mirow on Unsplash

Developing a giving and kind culture at work also leads to higher-performing teams. In fact, 74% of young people want to work in a place that feels like a kind community. Mentoring at work, mainly those developed informally, spread wisdom and knowledge throughout the organization and can create virtuous cycles and contagions of kindness. Acknowledgments of work during a call or unexpected bonus payments for well-completed projects could establish norms of appreciation. When the behavior is normalized and repeated by all employees, teams tend to be more engaged and effective.

Aesop said, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." I believe performing random acts of kindness in the hope that they would be paid forward is thinking about our actions more broadly. It is not thinking transactionally or calculating what return will result from the giving. It is hoping that others may flourish in the future.

Authors Note:

The first year post-publication has been filled with guest-speaking on podcasts and delivering seminars and workshops. I invested time in providing meaningful content through newsletters and articles: my readers trusted me in supporting my work, and I hope I have not betrayed that trust. While it was challenging at times to create, I learned dedication to my craft and loyalty to my readers and maintained integrity in my work.

I am pressing pause on publishing articles to review the next stage and direction of writing and research. I’d love to stay in touch and hear from you at In the meantime, I encourage you to perform a random act of kindness daily: here are some ideas to get you started. With all my very best for a brighter future.

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