I have recently read a paradigm shifting book, Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. And I bec0me enthralled with the idea of the Gift Economy, a modernization of the traditional tribal potlatch economy, as path to a more beautiful world where all our needs get met.
I encourage all of you to read Sacred Economics, which I count as one of the most important books in my life, for more more information of the hows and whys of the gift economy. But for the purposes of this article, I will begin with a short summary.
Our current economic system encourages competition, taking things that we all have in common and were at once time “free” and charging money for them, and the hoarding and concentration of wealth among the few. It is based on the idea that we are separate, separate from one another, and separate from nature. And that we need to always need to have more to be happy. The system is broken and has been slowly falling apart for decades. Both for our happiness and for our survival, we need a new path.
That path is the Gift Economy, where we each do things that we feel good about, and that serve the earth and culture. And we offer those things as gifts, with no set costs. Others do the same, offering their gifts to us. We all express our best, give fully, and are able to receive in abundance through the strength of our circle of givers.
Many people can see the beauty in this model, but many would also see this as an impractical model, and ask the question, “How do we get there from here?” This is my own humble attempt to identify first steps.
1) Give Where You Can
No matter what your life/work situation is, find things you love to give, and that can make a positive difference for others, and give them as gifts. Part of being happy as human beings is to give our gifts, this is worth it, even when we receive nothing in return.
*note – eventually, giving a gift may be similar as doing something for free, because we will be having most of our needs met by others’ gifts. When we give we will create the social capital of others’ gratitude, and we will be creating a stronger circle that has more to give to us. But during the transition period while many of us are still living in the money economy to some degree or another, it means giving with no set cost, and realizing that people who have money to give will give you money, others will give services that you need, and others will give nothing but will and are “paying it forward” by giving to others.
2)Pass On Real Costs
One of the failures of our current economy is that costs to society by creating negative impacts (pollution for one) and using precious resources, is not figured into financial transactions. We can do real cost accounting in our personal lives. Even when we give a gift, if there are costs involved, pass them along. If there is driving it is OK to pass the real costs of travel along, not only the gas and an estimate of car wear, but maybe time. If we are building something, it’s OK to pass along the cost of materials. Giving in balance means being honest about the costs we pay.
3) Honor the Giver
In current society, getting a “bargain” is seen as a good thing. Some people might might receive a gift, and give $5 when they could have given $20 ( and even felt that would have been more fitting) and feel like they scored. But in a gift economy, it is the one who gives that is most honored. Make it a practice that both in giving, and in honoring others’ gifts, to give the most you can give and still be in balance.
4) Money for Money, Gift for Gift
I do not want to give without limit to all. If I give to a giver, and we are part of a common community, that gift will accomplish the good I want in the world and almost always come back to me, usually even better. I want to give to my circle of givers as much as I can. But if I give to someone who still lives and thinks in the money economy, they may see my gift as “cheap” or a bargain. It makes sense to charge people in the money economy, money prices, since they are not trying to build community but to get the best they can for themselves, I have to stand up for myself to create balance.
If I give to a person who is caught in an addiction, physical or emotional, and who consistently needs more than they have to give, I want to give in ways that help that person get better, not ways that drain me, and might even enable them to continue living our of balance.
So I will give as much as possible to the givers in my circle, and give wisely to those outside.
5) Communication and Reputation – Creating a Circle
As our community gets larger, how do we know who is standing in our circle with common ideas and practices around gifts? There are many ways of identifying a community and communicating. One way is through forming a community online which gives a place to offer gifts, state needs, and record gifts given and received. Such a network is being developed in Eugene and should go online within a month. The community is called Kindista, and I encourage you to check the out at kindista.org.
Check out and see if there is a gift circle or time exchange in your area, If you are on the West Coast, Kindista will probably be up and down the coast in a year. If there is nothing in your area, start a circle!
6) Admit Your Real Needs (and Ask For Them!)
Many people who want to be good, and make a difference tend to minimize their own needs, and not tell others about them, or ask for them to be met, because they don’t want to be burdens to others . They end up being less joyful and strong because of these unmet needs. When we are in a circle with one another, the stronger and happier each person is, the stronger the circle is. That includes you, We don’t want to focus so much on the “replacement” needs (chocolate to fill the need for love, or excess money to replace the security of community) but on our real base needs. If there is wisdom, help, companionship, needs for the physical basics of life that you have, ask, ask, ask. And give others the opportunity to give to you.
Here is list of things, that people often need and don’t ask for, Child Care (shared or given), expertise,nurturing touch, help figuring things out, tools, rides (shared or given), listening, for just a few.
7) Ask Before You Buy
Every time you are about to purchase something, ask yourself, if you could borrow or receive this thing or service from your community and ask first, you can always go and make the purchase if something is not available in your gift circle.
8) Increase Hedonism, and Full Cost Accounting
Many people are torn between wanting to do and purchase things that make them feel good, and wanting to take care of the planet. These are both good things! I see many progressive folks almost getting the idea that too much pleasure in not ecological. Hooey! Pleasure is our natural state, our gift from the earth. We just want to get better and looking at the real cost of each act or purchase, Ask yourself 3 questions, How good is this for me? How good is this for others? How good is this for the planet? And do the acts where the balance is positive. And we don’t need to be perfectionist about this. If something seems really important for you, is neutral for others, and a little negative for the earth, do it, just like you might do something that was an inconvenience for us but that was really good for the earth
9) Minimize Daily Travel
Our current upshoot in gas prices is a wonderful reflection that is closer to the real costs of gasoline engines. Many people choose their dwelling first on space, appearance, quality of neighborhood, and have closeness to work as a secondary issue, and closeness to friends and activities off the list.
T o make you your life work, and the earth be in balance, live in a place where your friends and life are close, make that priority one in choosing a place to live. You will minimize the costs of auto transport, and just importantly, the wasted time of transit. Live close to those you love, and love those you live close to. If we do this vibrant informal communities will thrive.