Guardians of Karma

Guardians of Karma

I always had a hard time asking people for favors. I guess it was a mix of embarrassment of admitting my shortcomings coupled with a strong aversion of owing someone. I always preferred to be the one giving and the one being owed to, rather than knowing that I owe someone and I may forget to pay back…The change started when I read the book Give and Take by Adam Grant. Sidestepping spoilers, I’d only say that like many others, I wanted to see myself as a giver (though most of us are actually matchers…). My ‘cork release’ moment was realizing that by helping others I’m evening out my scorecard. The realization that it does not have to be the same person I give and take from, is what released the bottle neck for me – karma evens things out.

Armed with this new realization I set out to make some new rules of engagement. First, I started feeling better about helping others without worrying about wasting my time or energy. No more thoughts about ‘what could I have done with the time instead’. Second, I started the journey towards feeling comfortable with asking for favors and help. I increased my involvement in various support groups and communities, and most importantly I made the ‘one-meeting rule’: whenever someone approached me with something I felt I have value to add, I’d give one meeting of my full and undivided attention. Not a ‘free trial’ consultant showing off his knowledge and namedropping, working to land a consulting gig… but truly making the most of the time allocated to help the other party to the best of my ability.

The flip side of the coin has yet to become a 2nd nature for me, but I’m working on it. I start by noticing when I encounter a question or issue I can use help with. Accepting that it’s okay to ask for help and that I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. But reaching out for help has been teaching me some invaluable lessons. I see how some people are phenomenal givers – they immediately reply with the best advice they can master (I guess they adopted the one-meeting rule long before me… well, better late than never…). But I also see how many many others do not help or even reply at all, even those I gave a helping hand to just a few days/weeks prior (this was very easy to notice on certain support groups). I know that my eureka moment of how to even-out my scorecard means I shouldn’t be bothered by that. I should accept that my giving has nothing to do with their giving (or lack thereof) and that my giving should be free of any expectation of reciprocity. But I can’t really help it. Even if this means that I’m not a true giver…

I can’t help feeling ‘used’ when I see a former helpee ignoring my asks. But what I also noticed is that I feel just as bad seeing such a helpee ignoring others. Especially when such help is within easy reach. Just think of a situation when you hold the door for someone that follows you into a coffee shop only to witness how a few moments later that someone is not doing the same for someone else when circumstances were obvious. In his book, Adam suggests that givers become matchers when encountering takers. So as a giver you can start by helping out but if you see that the person you helping is actually a taker, who does not give back, then you switch into a matcher that only givers in return for a similar take. This is great advice for repeated two-man game situation of gaming theory – when two people interact for more than one time, then each has to take into account that his/her actions (or lack thereof) in the first round, will most likely impact the other party’s actions in the following rounds. But what happens in a larger community or group interactions? What happens in sporadic encounters with little chance of repeat game?

This is where my 2nd rule of engagement kicks in – the guardians of karma. While I’m still working out the some of the details (so I welcome any suggestions you may have…) the principal is that just like my own personal scorecard evens-out across a variety of people, so does the community karma needs to even out. In closed communities there are sometimes mechanisms in place by community managers, such as rewarding givers/helpers and keeping a visible score that help guard the community from predatory takers. These rules help protect the karma in situations with potential market failures. If a taker is hiding in the high grass of a group, feeding off its members good will without giving back, the community manager should make that visible to everyone else. This will incentivize the taker to change or leave, and harnesses the power of crowd to achieve this. Silo is good example of such community that promotes helpers. My personal take from this, is that I stay actively engaged only in groups and communities where such guardians exist. My second take, is to try to be a guardian of karma in the communities that I run (online and offline). Because sometime karma needs a little help…

But what about sporadic encounters (like the coffee shop example)? Am I to be the Good Samaritan that tells others off when they are misbehaving? One idea is to seek the community guardian (the cashier, shop manager, fb group administrator etc.), another is to say something, and yet another is to realize that life isn’t perfect and takers can get away with a sporadic sting. But as long as there are more people who will show gratitude (whether directly or by helping others), continuing to give even in sporadic encounters will remain the preferred course of action for me.

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