The Principle of Reciprocity

May 16th, 2021

“The universe is a vast system of exchange. Every artery of it is in motion, throbbing with reciprocity, from the planet to the rotting leaf.”

Edwin Hubbel Chapin

What goes around comes around and, as this week comes around we just happen to be taking a look at the very Universal Principle that looks into that cycle of exchange: The Principle of Reciprocity.

“Reciprocity is a method of exchange that arises within an interdependent system. It incorporates both the ‘pay-it-back’ and ‘pay-it-forward’ methods of exchange, but hinges on the benefits of cooperation creating what can be described as a gift economy.”

Here is a simple yet heart-warming story of reciprocity I witnessed a short while ago. Among her many creative talents, my wife makes crystal jewellery. Besides selling her custom creations to clients, she sometimes sells them on the proviso that the money is not paid to her but to a cause she supports.

Someone, who also supported causes of her own, bought jewellery on this basis. So now we have money paid to the first cause. This woman then paid that forward another step by offering her new jewellery up for auction to raise money for a cause she supported. By the time the bidding had stopped and the total was added to the money she had originally paid for the jewellery (going to the first cause), a total of 754USD was raised.

At every stage value was added. Both causes benefitted. Both the original creator/seller and the first buyer felt good about their choice. In addition, the second buyer (who won the auction for the second cause) also got to keep the jewellery. By cooperation and choosing to see oneself as part of a greater whole, several economic and charitable gifts were created that benefitted multiple parties in different ways. The old carnival barker’s call of “Everyone’s a winner!” is no hustle in a gift economy created by reciprocity. It is simply the natural consequence of conscious choice.

The video below demonstrates the social aspect of reciprocity:

The “Me/We” of mutualism

Let us expand our reciprocity now out into the natural world:

“This principle relies on mutualism and a relationship to the whole to allow energy to circulate throughout the system. Everything exists in mutual sustenance. The health and prosperity of one’s neighbour species is relational to health and survival rates on both the individual and species level.”

The sooner we stop seeing ourselves as isolated individuals and shift our perspective to something more akin to cells within a greater organism, the more obvious it will become to us just how much we affect each other and our situation in the world. From this standpoint, the blinkers of competition, survivalist “kill or be killed” fundamentalism we have been taught are simply an old, tired lie. That is just shooting ourselves in the foot.

© Dave Brown, The Independant

The truth is, we need each other. More pointedly, we need each other to do well too.

In shamanic medicine there is a saying: “Your healing is my healing and my healing is your healing.” There is no separation. The moment one works from the understanding that we are part of an interconnected whole it immediately becomes in our interest to support the interests of others as well. If everyone is a cell in the same organism, the healthier each cell is the stronger the organism. This understanding of interdependent, interconnecting multi-way relationships are the essence of mutualism. There is no “me” without “we” and visa versa.

Friends with benefits – for everyone

So, know we know what a loving, enjoyable world we can create just through the choice to cooperate. Contrastingly, we have all seen how getting caught up in fear states can paralyze the mind into focusing on divided, “me” – centred survival. As we saw last week (click here if you missed it), we have been sold a distorted view of nature as a tooth and claw fight for survival. This in turn has led to fear of apocalyptic scenarios that we are told we can do nothing about and the spiral continues.

Our understanding of paying back can be limited as well. For example, sometimes the idea of being paid back immediately creates an expectation. What we really want to create is a “vacuum of possibility” that nature can rush to fill up. So, it begins with our innate tendency to give and reciprocate. Giving then becomes continual generation of creative emptiness, welcoming the natural force of abundance.

All this reciprocity is really part of our original principle, the Principle of Unity (Click here for more on that). The illusory idea of separation has created depletion, both in ourselves and through what we have created in our stewardship of nature. We take from nature when it is not given and we block ourselves from receiving because we don’t see ourselves as part of this oneness. It is our fear and mistrust of not receiving that creates depletion. That, in turn, makes us compensate and justify taking again and the negative cycle continues.

“Let them eat cake”…

Fortunately for us, nature sees things quite differently. Let us look at how reciprocity benefits the wider world:

“Nothing exists in isolation. Reciprocity is central in an ecosystem’s ability to create abundance. It supports the process of evolution and freedom for a species to transition from ‘survive’ to ‘thrive’ states. In the thriving state, life has more resources available to develop new possibilities that bring greater benefits to the system. The healthier each part of the system is, the better off the system is as a whole.”

It is in nature’s interests to help one another for greater collective gain – and therefore feeding back to the individual. It is far more ambitious than mere survival. The life force within life itself is bursting to thrive. It knows that a world teeming with diversity and resilience creates more for everyone. Instead of survivalist fighting over crumbs, it builds a bigger cake.

Sharing the load

It doesn’t only share the rewards. It shares the load of creating them too:

“Through load sharing, specialization can then take place and develop unique structures for the system to use as building blocks for future generations.”

We saw last week in the Principle of Resilience that part of the building of diversity, was the creation of multiple instances of life that can perform similar tasks. This shares the load and ensures stability. Now some energy can be freed up for the system to develop even greater complexity and integration.

If we remember that entropy is essentially the loss of integration – that is, the disintegration, breakdown and dissipation of life and the energy behind it – then we can appreciate just how important the resources to create specialization becomes for life to continue thriving.

Back to the garden

We have much more power than we know. It is in us because it is literally in our nature. Recent history may have scared us into competitiveness and the poverty consciousness of the taker but our true nature is giving and receiving in abundance. Reciprocity is the kind and generous guide; the gentle, caring hand leading us back to the garden of our own, true nature.

(For a more wide-reaching look at these principles, go to

© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

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