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The Art of Living and Giving

January 18 - Gail the Actuary has written a wonderful article for the Oil Drum ( I missed it the first time around, but it was republished this past Thanksgiving. Titled “Thanksgiving: A Time to Think about Gift Economies?”, Gail acquaints us with societies/economies that accord recognition, not to individuals who HAVE a lot, but to individuals who GIVE, or share, a lot. While I am forced to question her wave-of-the-hand dismissal of barter (my brother belonged to a barter organization that allowed him to, among other things, have his lawn sodded and his kids’ cavities filled), and believe it could definitely have a role to play in post-carbon civilization (along with local currency), gift economies have become so far removed from our daily existence in which everything is monetized, I think the idea definitely warrants discussion.
Wikipedia’s definition of a gift economy, which Gail quotes in her article, is a good place to start.
“. . .a society where valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards (i.e. no formal quid pro quo exists). Ideally, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within the community.”
Certainly, the work that mothers and wives do for their families is an excellent example of gifting. Shockingly, however, Gail does not cite the work that fathers do for their families. I have no knowledge of fathers who require that the support they provide their families be repaid! Because Gail’s father was a physician, it may have been that his giving was primarily to patients, not family. Since she did not witness paternal gifting in her own family, she overlooked it. Furthermore, though not mentioned in the article, extended family members often “step up” when the need arises. That could be the sticking point: in a true gift economy, there is no requirement of need; giving takes place, regardless.
Perhaps a modern-day example might be Christians who tithe. Another would be volunteer work. In the Jewish religion, anonymous giving is considered the very highest form of giving. However, in this instance, I believe we will find ourselves in need of examples. This would have to be a learned behavior for many people, and the power of example can be highly significant. Gift giving gives the giver a “lift”; once someone becomes acquainted with that feeling of having made someone happy - and for no apparent reason - and at the same time sees others doing the same thing, there is enough reinforcement to begin to make changes.
Does the gift need to be “a big deal?” No. That might be what would trip people up in American society. The gift’s worth is, in fact, of little consequence, and besides – that’s determined by the recipient, not the giver. When times are bad, it TRULY is the thought that counts. When times are good, gifting is a great way to celebrate. Simply remembering to give/share from time to time helps to form us into the people we would like to become. Practice makes perfect, so start today!


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