The Benefits of Human Sacrifice

Human sacrifice doesn’t just appease the gods– it’s also what builds a community.

Last year, when I came back from Japan, I had to fly in from Narita Airport in Tokyo straight to Toronto. When I arrived, I realized I wasn’t going home but to a conference instead. But I was exhausted, so I didn’t want to go. But I did go, and had a great time with Brian Clark, Chris Garrett, Chris Brogan, Geoff Livingston and others in the process.

I’ve been thinking about this subject all week after reading an incredible comment on Reddit. Why do we feel lonely or supported? Why do we have full birthday parties (or empty ones, as the case may be)? How can we make more good stuff happen around us?

My theory is that it’s all based around sacrifice. We wrote a little bit about this in Trust Agents, but I want to take it further, because I think reciprocity is a much stronger force than I used to think, and it will take us to good places if we do it right.

I had a dinner party on Saturday, then one of my best friends’ birthdays a few days later, then my co-author’s birthday on the 8th, so it’s a lot to think about. What makes come to our social events, instead of staying home? I suspect it’s sacrifice. In other words, it’s working on someone else’s happiness instead of our own.

Look, we’re all lazy. Sometimes we want to stay home– for you, that may be most of the time. But those times when we sacrifice our own interests and head out to that event our friend is hosting, work on their happiness, we’re increasing the chance that they’ll then come and work on ours.

This is how friendships are built– by doing things together and for each other and making our lives better. It’s how communities are built too, one act of sacrifice at a time (never mind the activities we all take part in and enjoy, obviously).

I think that individuals that sacrifice are, to a certain degree, rewarded. And I think it’s an important part of building social capital online– and it is what we do when we build content for free: sacrificing our own short-term interests for our readers (and our own long-term interest too, obviously).

So maybe it’s a personal short-term sacrifice is a form of long-term gain? I’m not sure. Could we say that human sacrifice makes it rain? ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m thinking out loud at this point, sorry. Does this make sense to you at all?





15 responses to “The Benefits of Human Sacrifice”

  1. Siddhartha Avatar

    I think you’ve really hit on a wonderful principle here Julien; interacting personally with others is a form of sacrifice that lets them know we care about them.

    That’s why sending an ecard is never as appreciated as a real card, it takes more time to select and write a thoughtful note in a real card.

    Our sacrifice is recognized and reciprocated by others.

  2. Jennifer Iannolo Avatar

    I disagree that this is a sacrifice. It’s simply a shift in short-term tactics, but the long-term goal (your personal happiness) remains the same.

    The term “sacrifice” implies you are giving up something of greater value to get a lesser value in return. In these cases, making a friend happy or closing a piece of business contributes to the overall personal happiness factor. IMO, that should always be the highest priority, so to me this is a win, not a sacrifice.

  3. Hamiota Avatar

    I have actually found this to be true in my own personal life. When I “hermit” and do not attend a couple of functions, I am then “forgotten” when the next event comes up.

    My personal default state is to not go out, so to me it is a sacrifice – of my comfort level. For people who thrive off social interactions and their default state is to be around people, it would probably not seem like a sacrifice. Staying home would seem like a sacrifice.

    I find this is also is similar to “out of sight, out of mind”. If you are around and engaging with people, they remember you the next time they are doing something.

    The same happens in business, which is probably why sales people like to ‘check in’ on how things are. They want you to keep them in mind next time you need their type of product or service. It is also the same when recommending people or businesses to others.

  4. Everett Bogue Avatar

    I like just think of this as giving. Initially giving might feel like a sacrifice, but the people who position their lives around a gift culture — which I believe you’ve done in your work and in Trust Agents — begin to realize that gifts are a powerful force in the world.

    The Internet magnifies that power exponentially.

    A birthday party is only a 1-15 person event, or even a 1-1 event. When you take the power of a gift and put it on the Internet, you’ve changed that ratio to an even larger number. When I put a gift of informaion on my blog it’s a gauranteed the power of 1 – 2600 plus anyone who stumbles across the blog forever into the future.

    This is what enables us to make a living.

    The Internet has totally blown the power of a gift out of proportion, and that is changing the world in a fundamental way.

  5. Everett Bogue Avatar

    Stupid iPhone. Feel free to copy edit that Julien ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. John McLachlan Avatar

    What a lovely sentiment, Julien. You have often spoken of “getting out the door” and not crapping out on events. I sometimes think I’m the only one who has the urge to hibernate, but glad to hear I’m not. The effort (or sacrifice) is almost always worth it, and some!

  7. Bill Rowland Avatar


    Great thought and upon reflection I totally agree. Making that extra effort for those around you is a sacrifice; essentially giving a piece of yourself.


  8. Jeremy Meyers Avatar

    When you recognize that giving forms bonds and dissolves the illusion of “me” vs “not me”, then you can recognize that it’s not a sacrifice at all, but in fact its the most powerful thing you can do for yourself.

  9. Susan Murphy Avatar

    Sacrifice, as Jennifer points out, is about giving something up of greater value for something of lesser value. If that’s true, then isn’t hiding at home and taking no action at all more of a sacrifice than actually participating in life?

  10. CT Moore Avatar

    So you mean I didn’t have to kill that goat on your birthday?

  11. Thomas Avatar

    Hi Julien

    it was a pleasure meeting you at the airport. Here is a website you may be of relevance to your work


  12. Lauren Avatar

    First off, Julien, did you cook at your dinner party?

    If so, awesome, if not, better luck next time. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I liked what you said about going to an event that a friend is having to work on their happiness, not yours.

    Because really, when someone else is having an event, it’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s about honoring them and their accomplishments, and by going you are saying – you are an important person to me and what you did is awesome. Even if it’s just being born.

    And if you can’t go, find another, more personal, way to tell them how much you love them. That’s even better sometimes, making it a 1-1 interaction rather than a 15-1. (For the record, 1-1 interactions are sooooo much better, than 15-1 ones)

    I guess it’s about sacrifice, although that’s kind of a sad way to put it – who wants to say to a friend ‘I’m sacrificing sitting on my ass at home to come to your event’, and if you don’t sacrifice that, at least reach out to this person to show your love and support in any way you can.

    I guess the steps would be – sacrifice, and if you can’t, then settle for a 1-1 interaction at a latter date. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Whitney Avatar

    I was listening to the book “Wired to Care” recently, and it talked about how the best products and services are like great gifts- they say something about the “giver”- who they are, how they feel, and how well they know or how they see the recipient.

    When I knit a gift for a new baby,it’s more than just a little hat or blanket. It’s a gift of time, it’s a gift of love,it’s a gift of creativity, and of welcoming into the community. Not everyone may see it that way, but because it is custom versus off the rack,the meaning to me as the giver is more intense than if I just handed over a credit card at Babies R Us.

    The best presents are always those with a personal touch, the ones that show someone cares and invested effort to be thoughtful, or to bring people together. Buying dinner for friends is a gift of sharing. Not all presents need to be huge or grandiose, but they are fantastic when they hit the mark and make an emotional impact. The best gifts are those that have that emotional from the heart quality, rather than an in-built obligation of a future quid pro quo. And what’s amazing is that the more heart-felt your gift is, the more it is appreciated, and the more likely you are to reap long term benefits- what can look like altruism actually benefits everyone in the transaction.

    I never regret going out of my way for others. As long as it is heart-felt, I get the short term reward of feeling terrific that I could help someone, and I get long term rewards by developing stronger relationships and people more likely to do the same for me.

    What’s difficult is how to measure what it means when someone else doesn’t do the same, doesn’t prioritize the same as you have, and what to make of that. Does that add or subtract from the trust bank?

  14. seanrox Avatar

    As a Dad, I do understand and appreciate this message. Keep on writing, I’ll keep on sharing with others.


  15. jim morrison Avatar
    jim morrison

    you should talk more about LIVE human sacrifices, your book would be alot more popular

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