Taking Pride in Contribution
During the past week, I was encouraged to take part in the Mowgli Mentorship Experience, an experience that I fully enjoyed until I was questioned about what I have learned. I was certain I learned something but it took me some time to frame it in the right words, you must hand it to Ian and Lynn who made the whole learning process feel so seamless.
To me there were two main highlights during those three days in the mountains. While discussing with the mentors and entrepreneurs I kept citing a couple of books I read a long time ago. The first is Mutual Aid by Russian evolutionary theorist Peter Kropotkin and the second is The Cathedral & the Bazaar by American computer programmer Eric S. Raymond. Both books, although almost a century apart and written in completely separate fields, touch on the notion of The Gift Culture.
The second highlight was the night where each mentor was assigned to an entrepreneur; this process was conducted like a gift exchange ceremony. Ian and Lynn kept referring to us (both mentors and mentees) as gifts while they paired everybody up.
Kropotkin’s book drew on his experiences in scientific expeditions in Siberia to illustrate the phenomenon of cooperation. After examining the evidence of cooperation in nonhuman animals, pre-feudal societies, in medieval cities, and in modern times, he concludes that cooperation and mutual aid are the most important factors in the evolution of the species and the ability to survive.
Raymond examines the social workings of open source software development, mainly the notion that developers strive to have a better status by contributing their time and knowledge to the “tribe”.
In hunter-gatherer societies the hunter’s status was not determined by how much of the kill he ate, but rather by what he brought back for others, this is replicated today in both the Science community and the Developers community mainly due to the nature of knowledge and information.
Information and knowledge lose value over time and have the capacity to satisfy more than one. In many cases information and knowledge gain rather than lose value through sharing. While the exchange economy may have been appropriate for the industrial age, the gift economy is coming back as we enter the information age.
According to philosopher Lewis Mumford, fundamental change in civilizations comes when the culture changes its vision of what it is to be a human being. We are all wired both physiologically and socially, to seek cooperation and collaboration despite an educational system and social context that works to inculcate in us a bottom line and individualistic view of the world. In a commodity (or exchange) economy, status is accorded to those who have the most. In a gift economy, status is accorded to those who give the most to others.
The first step towards change is taking pride in the value of our contributions to others rather than taking pride in the value of our possessions. Defining success by what one gives rather than what one has is neither a new practice nor an overly idealistic view. It is rooted deep in history and human nature, and is more basic than wealth or money.
So going back to the Mowgli Mentorship Experience, the fact that I remembered the notion of the Gift Culture and was quoting those books before any mention of gifts was made, meant that the Mowgli team managed to pass on to us, and in some cases remind us, valuable life lessons by creating an atmosphere of collaboration and generosity.
Taking Pride in Contribution