News, events, and articles for the Catalyst Network of Communities.

Sharing Reciprocally to Build Community

Sharing Reciprocally to Build Community
by Sharon Moiseiff

When I first encountered the concept of a Human Library, I thought to myself “wow that is a cool idea!”  I had seen articles that spoke about people sharing stories, opening up, and showing genuine interest in just listening to others talk about their lives.  

I was also skeptical.  I couldn’t imagine that it would be easy for people to just open up to others and share so much about themselves. I didn’t think that it would be easy to get people to show up ready to ask questions and show genuine interest and just listen.  I thought that it could be hard on both ends of this for people to truly engage in this kind of activity because I think most people are not accustomed to approaching others in that way. I would suppose that most people are more closed off and put up barriers.

Photo by Mehriya Jashniya Sidiqi

I’ve participated in a lot of Sharing Events and I can see parallels between sharing stories and sharing material items.  Working with the Long Beach Free Store project through Catalyst, we set up opportunities for people to come together to simply share with each other.  We learned that  we could encourage people to make deeper connections and have meaningful interactions with each other by creating an environment for people to share.  And that’s what we saw happening every time. They shared!   

At the same time, there is still apprehension.  There are always some who are reserved about the giving, and they hold back.  On the other end, there are also people who are reluctant to receive. Some feel uncomfortable about getting something that is freely given.

The thing about sharing is – for it to REALLY work, it has to be reciprocal.  People who come together to share need to be open and ready to both freely give and receive.  They don’t need to feel guarded or regret about letting go.  It’s okay to reach out and offer what we have.  They don’t need to feel uncomfortable or guilty about receiving; it’s okay to accept graciously.  When we are all committed to reciprocal sharing, all of our needs are met and we can feel good about knowing that our community as a whole has become all the more better.

Photo by Tracie Rodriguez

So when I saw the Human Library event in Long Beach actually happen, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was wrong about my initial skepticism.  As a volunteer I was able to work behind-the-scenes and just observe what was going on. What I saw was exactly what I always hope to see at any sharing event. People were openly, freely, and eagerly sharing. It was reciprocal. The sharing of stories went both ways and everyone seemed excited about it.


**Editors Note:

For another opportunity to share, come by the 4th anniversary event of the monthly Seven-Ten Swap hosted by the Long Beach Free Store on Friday, July 18, 2014 at 6:30pm for a community exchange and potluck. The location is 641 Pine Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90802. Find more info on Facebook at

Sharon Moiseiff is a sharing economy, gift economy, collaborative consumption, alternative economy enthusiast. She is founder of the Long Beach Free Store, Board of Director for Catalyst Network of Communities, and advisory board member of the Whittier Time Bank.