Savarekareka Primary School Savusavu, Fiji 1988
I was going through some old photos the other day and came across this one of my class in Fiji- can you tell which one is me?
We moved there when I was about ten. My Dad was the game fishing guide at a new resort called Na Koro (now known as Jean-Michel Cousteau) and we lived in the hotel.
During the week, I got on the back of the gardener's ute and went to a regular local school where I was only 'Kaivalagi' (non-Fijian) in a school of about 300 Fijian kids.
Aside from the obvious language and afro hair differences, the biggest adjustment was learning that 'my things' were no longer 'my things'.
Fijian kids share everything.
For a kiwi kid used to having my pencil case and my shoes and my sandwich this took a bit of getting used to.
It was not uncommon to see someone walking around in my sandals or a kid in the junior class with my ruler-no matter how large I wrote my name on stuff.
One morning, I went in to find my colouring pens had been distributed across the classroom.
I asked one of the girls, Mary (the one with the white shoes in the photo) to please return my purple pen.
"Do you need to use it now?", she asked.
"Well…no…" I wasn't sure where this was going,"but they're mine and you didn't ask and I don't like people going into my desk and…who got them out in the first place?"
"Let me know when you need to use purple for your colouring and I'll give it back to you," Mary replied and kept colouring.
Fijian kids think differently. The idea that 'my pens have to live in my pencil case in my desk' is foreign to them.
Sharing is an efficient system where how things got there and who owns them is not so important. Because they are naturally generous, any concerns about 'you are using up my pen' don't exist because they are so open-handed with everything they have. The same Mary that uses your purple pen on Monday will be the same Mary that gives you half her lunch on Wednesday. Because nobody keeps score on who is using what, the system self-regulates and there are clear benefits of belonging to the community.
I see many attempts at online community building fail because people don't approach things with a spirit of curiosity and open-handedness. If a return isn't seen in the first interaction, the brand pulls back and takes their colouring pens back to their desk. The collaboration and sharing economies are foreign to us because we are so focused on someone using our toys, rather than the fact that we get to use other people's. Demanding that people share, like, retweet, comment, attend your thing, buy your thing, give their data, give their contacts, seldom works.
Letting people use your ruler, wear your shoes and eat your sandwich most definitely does.