Cooperation, mutual aid, reciprocity vital for societies to thrive

By Yuet Mee Ho-Nambiar

I recently got thinking about what are some attitudes and behaviours that are needed to enable us to live harmoniously together, so that our communities become more resilient for our shared prosperity.

This led me to reflect about the workings of our human body.  It is a closely integrated, coherent system – all parts are inseparably linked together, and each is influenced by the other or derive benefit therefrom, either directly or indirectly.  In other words, co-operation, mutual aid, and reciprocity are essential characteristics operating within our bodies.

In a similar way, we know the functioning of the earth systems and all the on it are tightly bound together.  Consider for instance the vegetable kingdom, and the animal kingdom. Each of these two make use of certain elements in the air on which its own life depends upon, while each increase the quantity of such elements as are essential for the life of the other. In other words, the growth and development of the vegetable world is assisted by the existence of the animal kingdom, and the maintenance of animal life is inconceivable without the co-operation of the vegetable kingdom. It is clear that co-operation and reciprocity are essential properties which are inherent in the system of the world of existence, without which the entire system would collapse.

It is also obvious that the higher a kingdom of created things, the more conspicuous are the signs and evidence of co-operation and reciprocity. For example, the signs of this are more discernible in the vegetable kingdom than in the mineral, and still more manifest in the animal world than in the vegetable.

When contemplating the human world, these principles extend beyond physical interactions within our bodies, to encompass our human interactions.  As well as mental and emotional aspects of our interactions with each other – such as thoughts, opinions, manners, customs, attitudes, understandings, and feelings.

Cooperation, mutual aid, and reciprocity are essential for our societies to thrive because they promote social cohesion, efficient resource utilisation, and collective well-being. These principles encourage individuals to work together, share resources, and support one another. 

Just as people work together physically to achieve common goals, we also collaborate intellectually, emotionally, and socially to foster understanding, share ideas, and support each other’s well-being. This broader concept of cooperation encompasses various aspects of human interaction, including communication, empathy, shared values, and emotional support. It reflects the interconnectedness of individuals not only in their actions but also in their thoughts, emotions, and social dynamics.

Cooperation fosters a sense of belonging and connection among members of a society. When people collaborate and help each other, it strengthens bonds, reduces conflicts, and builds trust. Mutual aid ensures that resources are distributed and utilised effectively. Sharing skills, knowledge, and assets helps avoid duplication of efforts and minimises wastage. Reciprocity, where people give and receive help without the expectation of immediate returns, creates a safety net for everyone. In times of need, individuals can rely on others for support, enhancing overall quality of life.

We see many examples of these principles in action everywhere.  Countries offer aid to each other during crises, such as medical supplies during a pandemic, demonstrating the importance of reciprocity on a global scale.  During natural disasters, neighbours cooperate to provide shelter, food, and aid to those affected.  Teams work together in workplaces to share knowledge, skills, and ideas, resulting in increased productivity and innovation.  In community farming, members of a community pool their resources and labour to cultivate a shared farm that benefits everyone by yielding more crops and distributing the harvest fairly.

In fact, humans would not have come so far if not for these principles.  Early societies relied on cooperation and mutual aid for survival through activities like bartering goods and services, which enabled the exchange of resources without a monetary system.

Guided by personal ethics of ‘do more good’, Yuet Mee Ho-Nambiar has a long involvement with sustainability and community building activities. Belief in the oneness of humanity and the nobility of man underpins her interest in matters relating to unity and social cohesion of communities, while her background in a finance-related profession focuses her interest to the area of inclusive economics and development.  

The views expressed here are that of the writer’s and not necessarily that of Weekly Echo’s.