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?