The French anthropologist and sociologist Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) was the first westerner to write about gift-giving as an essential aspect of culture, more widespread and more universal than any other. Mauss saw gift-giving as a spiritual transaction, because the giver offers part of his or her very identity to the recipient and, by so doing, affirms the sacredness of the relationship.
Mauss distinguished between gift-giving as “balanced reciprocity,” in which one expects that the favor will be returned, and “generalized reciprocity,” in which “giving and receiving are decoupled.” In making this second kind of gift, the giver acts spontaneously, without expecting anything in return.” This kind of offering requires even more generosity on the part of the giver.
When we make gifts for hurt or endangered places as part of the RadJoy Practice, we are decidedly acting in a spirit of generalized reciprocity. We give to the places we care about that have fallen on hard times simply because we are compelled to express our love, our grief, our gratitude. We know that our gifts are likely to be transformed or even erased by rain, sun, waves, animals, traffic, or by us ourselves as we pick up the trash that was the medium of our gift of beauty and take it away. In this way, we “decouple” ourselves from expectation of reward or reciprocity.

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

Image Credit:

  • Costa Rica Altar: Christi Strickland

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