Guest Post by Mary Koppes: Reciprocity: Presence Is Its Own Gift

For the past week I’ve been a guest at one of the two homes that comprise The Village, a community of heart-centered entrepreneurs and change-makers based out of Boulder, Colorado.

My initial connection with The Village came from a chance meeting with one of its key organizers, César, who reached out to me after I gave a nerve-wracking one-minute pitch in front of 100 people at a fellowship program we were both participating in. When he learned that I was looking to relocate, and that community was a key part of my search, he invited me to come to Boulder to explore his community.

Come on over. Just like that.

During my layover in Denver on my travels back home from Los Angeles, where the fellowship program was held, I texted César: Wanna meet up in Denver? 5 hour layover. He wrote back: You should just come for the weekend.

On a whim, I did go for a 24-hour whirlwind visit. And there was so much good food, good conversations with thoughtful people doing interesting work, and a record number of hugs for a 24-hour period that my skepticism about Boulder started to turn into genuine interest.

César was my ambassador to Boulder and The Village and went above and beyond, connecting me with like-minded and -hearted folks in the community he thought I’d vibe with or could learn from. Subsequently, I made some excellent connections with folks who were equally kind and helpful. Never before have I been asked so frequently and pointedly, “How can I support you?” Or experienced so many folks making introductions on my behalf (Second most heard phrase: “You’ve gotta meet so and so.”). And still some people, seeing an opportunity to contribute to my life, just reared right up and gave me gifts of their know-how or insights.

Here, take it, it’s free!

Although my visit was steeped in this dreamy, wonderland of connection and support, I had this sense of unease.

Being an explorer of my internal world and someone who cares deeply about fostering connection, I got curious about why this unease was showing up and what it was here to teach me. My curiosity led me to snoop out my beliefs about generosity, reciprocity, and connection.

Reciprocity happens when we’re in an equal position to give and receive.

Here’s the beautiful gift I got you for Christmas, friend.

Oh, and here’s the beautiful gift I got you, pal.

It feels good and keeps the balance of the relationship in check.

Sometimes there’s a time-lapse, of course. On your birthday when I give you a gift, I don’t expect you to give me something…but you’ll probably give me a gift on my birthday, in the future.

Reciprocity works wells in close, lasting relationships. With folks who come into our lives very briefly, the rules change.

Random acts of kindness are a good example. The driver of the car in front of you pays your toll. You don’t know the driver and can’t pay him back. Your response is simultaneous gratitude and confusion. How can you repay your debt to this stranger? Pay it forward.

Paying it forward is a way to keep the social ledger balanced and it seems to work well for these fleeting interactions with strangers.

But my experiences in Boulder were with folks who share characteristics with both groups: they had the warmth of long-term, close relationships and welcomed me like an old friend, but they were, in fact, near-strangers and the interactions were short-lived (though I intend to keep in touch with some folks).

And though I felt tremendous gratitude for the contributions folks made and offered to me, my social-minded self was up in arms about how I could possibly repay this kind of unfettered generosity. Since there was a sense of warmth and closeness, paying it forward didn’t feel like an adequate response. Searching my mind for the answer of how to bring the social ledger back into balance, I started wondering about what was in it for them—the contributors.

Some people want to give because they feel they have been the recipients of such generosity. That’s the pay it forward mentality. When my cup runneth over, I fill yours. Though that might have been operating at some level here, it didn’t explain the whole story.

There seemed to be some pure joy in offering, in contributing. The act of generosity itself was fulfilling and meaningful, and this is in alignment the idea, according to The Center for Nonviolent Communication that contribution is a universal human need. And if that was truly the case, how am I, the recipient, to reciprocate in such a way that that feels good to me and to them.

After sitting with this for a while, I realized that we don’t always exchange in kind—a gift for a gift. Tit for tat. Or in this case, an introduction for an introduction or an insight or an insight.

There are moments when someone has something tremendous to offer us and as recipients our reciprocation lies in our full presence and willingness to accept the offering. We can transform the cultural, “I couldn’t possibly accept…” by showing up fully engaged and humbly accepting the offerings of others.

The Village community in Boulder is extraordinary, no doubt. They represent what SPACIOUS stands for, the best part of the communities we are already a part of, and the world many of us want to see. In that way, we can all learn from their eagerness to contribute to others—even perfect strangers—and also about what a gift it is to reciprocate by bringing ourselves fully to our interactions.


Mary is curious about how we craft meaningful lives. Five years ago she traded her life as a graduate student in Sociology for that of a traveling cook. Along the way she fell in love with Non-Violent Communication, Vipassana Meditation and the world of social entrepreneurship through StartingBloc. Now she’s working on transforming the worlds of relationships, workplaces, and institutions through the transformation of our inner world via mindfulness and deliberate living. She blogs at (h)IN(d)SIGHT Writes and tweets @MaryFKoppes.

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