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A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with Michael Pealow, a social innovation consultant working with Indigenous men in the Yukon. He shared with me that he subscribes to a “mind model” that views everything as energy, and because everything is animated with energy, everything is connected. He goes on to say that because everything is connected when one thing “takes” from another, reciprocity is in order. We were exploring this concept due to an initial discussion about whether people value things more if they are paying for them or if those things are free. I must say I don’t fully appreciate the perspective that if one isn’t paying for something it has less value. Aren’t the best things in life free??

Certainly, value is subjective and varies from person to person. While some of us prioritize paid services or products, others may find more value in the things they don’t pay for. Are relationships and social connection more valuable than a big house and expensive automobiles? What about being in nature or having more time for pursuits of interest? Free can bring accessibility, convenience, and exposure. All good. On the other hand, paying for things can also help people to appreciate and value what they have. I think the thought is when we pay for something, we are more likely to take care of it and use it in a responsible way. So, what of reciprocity? Reciprocity refers to the mutual exchange of benefits, such as favors, gifts, or help, between individuals or groups. I admit that I my predominant position has been that favors, gifts or help don’t need to necessarily be exchanged. If one gives through generosity, kindness and love, gratitude and thankfulness are an appropriate exchange. But Mr. Pealow offers support for the idea of mutual exchange. He does it eloquently describing Indigenous people’s relationship with nature. It is understood that as the earth offers its gifts and one partakes, a relationship develops. In that relationship, if I get, I have the responsibility to give back, to give of my gifts.

Since my discussion with Michael, I have thought much about the energy connection and reciprocity. At MenLiving, we occasionally reference the idea that the spaces we create are not just about getting (i.e., support, companionship, etc.), but one must also be ready to give that support and companionship. To date, this get/give idea has been a casual mention. Today, I am thinking it may be more foundational to our efforts to achieve our vision/mission. I would love your thoughts. How do you feel about the concepts of free/value and reciprocity? Do you think a man who joins the MenLiving community and receives the community’s “gifts” has a responsibility to “give back” to the community and the organization at large?


  • Rob Rubin says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking post Shaun! In my experience, when people have money invested, they tend to prioritize giving it their attention. When money is not involved, people tend to take (or sign up for) more than they will consume. When no money is charged (like many Men Living groups) and I receive value from the offering, I appreciate and recognize it as precious and then will contribute financially when there is an opportunity to do so. I am also more inclined to want to help facilitate offerings for others so they can appreciate the benefits that I have appreciated, but my time has limitations with work, family, etc. and volunteering may not line up well with my schedule. With regards to Indigenous cultures there is an established normalcy or reciprocity. Our culture is quite complex and very diverse. If it is not explicitly spelled out, then anything goes. For better or for worse we do live in a capitalistic society and most are accustomed to speaking the cold, concise transactional language money offers.

    • Shaun Emerson says:

      Rob…Thank you for sharing…for sure the capitalistic foundation of our society plays heavy on this conversation. I will if more of the sense of duty/responsibility for reciprocity that is the foundation of indigenous culture were to be present in ours it might help rectify some of ugliness that exists today.

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