Building a network of trust and honored obligation

It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life that no one can sincerely try to help one another without helping oneself.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

The first lesson of networking is to always give without an expectation. We have all encountered those that take first, never intending to return the favor. Or worse, those that deceive to gain advantage. The news is replete with the con artists, the grifters, the felonious who take advantage of the gullible and the weak. The scandalous and despicable Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme has littered the financial, charitable, and investor community with hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of victims. Victims, who through a network of trust, were deceived on so many levels. It is now clear that the biggest victim may be our trust in one another. Every time someone gets burned, deceived, and hoodwinked, one of the candles of trust is blown out and we live in a darker world. Don't some of us have to look in the mirror and ask how much do we have to answer for this misplaced trust? Were we partially blinded by the prospects of extraordinary returns? Avarice and selfishness can be influential accomplices in our mistaken choices. 

Trust is so essential to our lives. It guides us through the traffic intersections, at our babysitters, when we enter our credit card #, and when someone shakes your hand and makes a commitment. We have all been betrayed. And it gives us pause and perhaps makes us each a little more callous and a little less trusting. In the end, you have to write-off, literally and figuratively, these setbacks as aberrations and exceptions. And if you are like me, you trust again. I am a bit of a sucker. And I have many stories where my good faith investments of time and resources were based upon deceit or false hopes. I have endured great disappointment in myself and others. However, these experiences have taught me many things. But being less compassionate has never been one of the lessons. Regrettably, we can become more wary in granting unconditional trust, but we have to recommit ourselves to trusting and believing in human decency and reciprocity. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

The LA Times columnist Tim Rutten reports that, "…every just society is bound by the ties of reciprocal obligation. Each member of the social order owes to every other an equal commitment to the common good." Reciprocity is the most powerful form of networking. Mutual obligation and our connection to the common good is unique to the human race. Alvin Gouldner and other sociologists have reported that "there is no human society that does not subscribe to the expectation of reciprocation." The world re-known anthropologist Richard Leakey agrees: "We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food in an honored network of obligation." Robert Cialdini, noted social psychologist, found in his extensive research that "human societies derive a truly significant competitive advantage from the reciprocity rule." In short, when we need each other, when we depend on one another: we become a stronger community. We have to make frequent and generous deposits into the bank of goodwill knowing that withdrawals can be made when needed.Call it kharma. Call it insurance. Call it the power of we. While we may endorse this concept, and there are reasons to doubt it, wouldn't it be amazing if we all lived this way? 

Madoff exploited this human virtue and damaged our community trust. We are grateful if we were not directly victimized and we reach out and help those who were. It all has to start with our mindset. Giving first. Nurturing our networks. Being true to the common good. And rejecting any violations of reciprocity as violations of our connection to one another. Networking is not a technique to get a job or a favor, it is a way of life that spans all cultures and defines the human species. Investing in our networks strengthens our sense of belonging and our interdependence. Through our ethical commitment to networking, we add more fire to the eternal flame of human trust and shed more light on our common ground. 

Happy Holidays! May the spirit of giving continue to guide and inspire you! Thanks for reading, John

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1 thought on “Building a network of trust and honored obligation”

  1. John, your piece on “Building a network of trust and honored obligation” is beautiful. I, too, can be a bit of a sucker. How do we keep putting out trust “out there” and minimize our chances of potential betrayal the “next time”? The Madoff Ponzi Scheme is so outrageous and leads to questions about why in the world tips and hints about his wrongdoing years ago were ignored. Who was he in bed with that he could continue his ruse even when red flags were being raised? He has ruined so many people and organizations that I think special penalties ought to be created and enforced.

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