Monday, January 24, 2011

The Way Of The Gift


Suppose you were given a gift, something that couldn't be depleted but would actually be increased or become more valuable each time it was used? Would you think it reasonable or just to demand compensation for the sharing of that gift? I'd say not. If any compensation is required, it is owed by, not to, the gift's recipient.

People with unusual talent are called "gifted", and that is exactly what they are: gifted. And yet talented people are taught to expect compensation. The more valuable their gift, the more compensation is demanded. This is very backwards. If talent had not been given to you, you couldn't earn it or buy it. It isn't evenly or fairly distributed. If you have it, you didn't do anything in advance to deserve it. The only way you could make yourself worthy of such a gift would be to share it as generously as possible. In short, the more you have been given, the more you should give.

Not only are gifted people conditioned to expect superfluous rewards, but those who are not gifted are penalised for their lack, as if they'd had some say in it. They're pretty much told, "Sorry buddy. You got passed over in the talent lottery, so now you've got to suck it up and pay a penalty for what you weren't given." It shouldn't be hard to see how this reversal of reason might lead to unnecessary scarcity. How would it be if we turned it around? If we all started giving as much as we could, instead of taking as much as we could, no one would want for anything. It would be a lot like a pot luck feast. I've been to several of those, and not a single one where there wasn't enough food. Even if some guests don't bring anything, it's always more than enough, and the host ends up wondering what to do with all the left-overs. Not only that, but the quality of the dishes is usually very high, since most people will bring what they do best.

I've heard a number of people complain that they participated in a gift economy and it failed because the contributions of those involved were unequal. It wasn't the unequal contributions that made it fail; it was the score-keeping. Gift economies don't work with score-keeping. Those who have more, give more: those who have less, give less. It is important to remember that the "more" that you have to give was itself a gift. Every valuable quality you possess was given to you, either by nature or circumstance. Keeping score is meaningless, harmful and petty. It's a poverty mind-set. If universal abundance is what we want, we have to let go of the compusion to keep score. (And yes, that does mean abolishing everybody's favorite score-keeping tool: money.) What is wealth really, if not the ability to give more than you take? Nature gives everything and asks for nothing. Is she poor?

5 comments:

  1. This is pure sanity. Might just become the basis of a post-TEOTWAWKI society! :D

    Thank you for putting these thoughts into words.

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  2. Gee thanks, BCth. (blushing) I had to look up TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it). I suppose if people got this it would be the end of the world as we know it. It would certainly be the end of the Empire.
    In Lak'ech.

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  3. Gift economy? It's a nice idea because it only works through universal trust and selflessness. If we can pluck up enough courage, take the plunge and dive into the murky waters of an almost unknown concept, by current standards: that of trusting all others, then when that trust is not betrayed it teaches us an enormous lesson. I remember a woman whose whole attitude to black people inverted overnight when a black man returned her lost wallet. She had always assumed all black people were thieves!

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  4. Hi Ben. It is a nice idea. Isn't it? And the only price we'd have to pay is to become responsible. As long as we refuse that, we'll have tyrants. Because, let's face it, anyone who wants to rule the world isn't sane, and is probably a psychopath.
    Like that woman's attitude, a shift of such magnitude will likely happen fairly suddenly, in response to some crisis, if enough people are open to it.
    I've always found that giving freely usually is responded to in kind.
    In Lak'ech.

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  5. This is powerful post. I used to buy farm fresh milk in a bottle in Iowa City, a little dairy outside town. No one tended the shop. You just put your money in a tray and made your own change. I did this for three or four years regularly and there was no sign that anyone ever stole.

    I like the idea of universal participation whether you give a penny or hundreds of dollars and it's between you and your Creator and no one else.

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