A magical synchronicity of gifts based on our needs has unfolded recently, so I can’t help but feel moved, like some sort of karma is involved.
The gifts have been given with heart and without expectation of anything in return, for example, a complete stranger overheard my enquiries at a local music store about getting my son a guitar. The next day she had tracked down my number and was calling to say she had a guitar we could have! She said it needed new strings (it was a classical guitar with steel strings on it) and that if it wasn’t suitable for us, to give it to a school.
I met with the stranger and whilst the guitar turned out not to be suitable for my son just yet, I wanted to honour the giver by fixing the guitar. I hadn’t yet decided if we would keep it, but I showed it to my son’s gorgeous guitar teacher and after our discussion, decided it would have a home with us. She insisted on restringing the guitar at no cost. Yet another unexpected warm gift that we appreciate!
These events have made me think more about life within a gift economy – a society where people share their skills, time, knowledge, information or material goods without any formal exchange.
Instead of monetary gain or bartering for something in return, gift economies rely on rewards like a sense of contribution, community, honor or prestige. The idea is that people give according to their abilities and receive according to their needs. A sense of community grows along with the knowledge that if you give, you will be known as a giver, and people will desire to give to you in turn.
As an example, I saw a post on my town’s Facebook community noticeboard that read “Would anyone like dinner tonight? I have made way too much cauliflower soup for my family! Might even have a bowl of sausage stroganoff as well. Must be picked up tonight ”. I’m not sure how many people she fed that night but everyone started leaving comments about how kind she was. She is now known as a giver and I bet someone will return the favour one day.
Yes, she could have frozen the food for a later time, but sharing encourages connection, caring, and trust that someone will share with you in the future when you need it – maybe a stranger will even become a best friend, it would seem more likely than if money was exchanged in the process.
There’s no hoarding of excess in a gift economy because it’s understood that excess can become a burden and that we’d all be better off if we shared. Wealth doesn’t come from keeping things but from the great honour and gratitude gained from giving precious gifts.
The power of gratitude also means you won’t trash your gift, you will want to care for it and use it as intended or in some other beautiful way. And, that’s exactly what I have found myself doing with my recent gifts both large and small.
So, we can reduce consumer demand, consumption of resources and waste by being more generous with our skills, time, knowledge, information and material goods – and improve our lives through our relationships with others. To get started, it can be as simple as giving someone something they need like a kitchen utensil that you have multiple of, or bras that don’t fit you anymore (which is another gift I received last month), or teaching someone how to do something.
By being more generous we can learn to live on less, depend less on money and associate it less with survival. This will help us transition away from our current debt based growth economy which encourages us to value our possessions more than our contributions to others and the environment.
So, shouldn’t we lead the way by giving more of our skills, time, knowledge, information and material goods to those who need it, when they need it? But just as important is to receive gifts from others for our own needs.