In many spiritual circles, it is popular to talk about gratitude. Gratitude encompasses much more than a quickie “thank you.” It implies a much deeper state of mind, one that practitioners realize will position you to receive even greater abundance.
Gratitude – together with all the volumes that have been written about it – is very much an ingredient of the gift economy. A very beautiful ingredient, which enriches our hearts and spirits, at the same time as it potentially invites more substantial and tangible gifts.
Some communities are beginning to set up “gift circles” — a collection of people who want to engage in gifting practices on a regular basis. But you don’t need to wait for an official gift circle. Here’s how you can get gift economy concepts rolling right now.
In cultivating the gift economy, one of the simplest, baseline starting points is appreciation. Letting people know you noticed. Thanking them, yes, but even moreso, giving them credit, and helping build their reputation as a giver within the community-at-large. “John designed the community garden.” “Karen arranged for the contribution of native plants.” “Deno very generously gives us discounts.” We’re not talking about brass plaques here, capitalist markers of bragging rights and Mine. Rather, we’re talking about verbal and emotional appreciation – social credit. It doesn’t cost you anything to give people credit. In fact it makes your heart feel good. And it builds a whole lot in community goodwill.
By cataloging the benefits, the recipient — and any listeners — come to realize the magnitude of how much has been achieved. We begin to acknowledge the Flow. I wrote about a gift transaction in a previous essay: “My friend feels gratitude for use of the tool; feelings of goodwill flow from others who heard about the transaction; people now know a sawzall is available within the neighborhood; the community garden tanks are now operational; and public education continues.” In conventional society we don’t usually say it like this. We stop at “John borrowed my sawzall.” And in that curt telling, we have cut ourselves off from the beauty of the full chain of events.
In Simple Abundance, a best-seller in the 1990s, Sarah ban Breathnach encouraged us to keep a gratitude journal. Each night before you go to sleep, write down five things you are grateful for. It’s a great personal exercise and can create great personal transformation. It can change your outlook completely.
But the gratitude journal exercise remains fairly personal. As a community-builder, you need to go an extra step: do it publicly. Get out there and tell people. Let people know you noticed the gift they gave. Each and every day. It becomes the “gratitude journal” on a community-scale. You’ll feel great, and they’ll feel great. Together you’ll begin to realize how much goodness – and potential extra goodness – exists around your community.
Another place we can begin is by learning to be a better recipient. (disclosure: This would be the “do as I say and not as I do” portion of this essay, because personally I’m terrible at it.) A good recipient doesn’t reject a gift offered, not even with a polite decline “that’s okay” or a mannerly “oh, you shouldn’t have!” Instead, he makes it comfortable and easy for the donor to give. A good recipient doesn’t abuse the system by taking more than his fair share. And at the same time he understands that for the system to work, everyone has to receive as well as give. Become someone whom people enjoy giving to.
The first step toward a sustainable sense of success is taking pride in the value of our contributions to othersrather than taking pride in the value of our possessions. –Gifford Pinchot http://www.context.org/iclib/ic41/pinchotg/
Honor people for what they give, rather than for what they have. We create and reinforce social norms by what we applaud. If you ooh and ahh over the neighbor’s new sportscar or your friend’s new designer dress, you’re applauding the capitalist retained-earnings lifestyle. If instead you highlight the volunteer hours he has given to the community and acknowledge her for the carrot cake recipe she shared, you help reinforce the new paradigm within your circle of friends.
As we cultivate gifting as a community-building technique, facilitating the gifts of others becomes important. You can help a donor match up with a recipient, or vice versa. You know someone with rooted raspberry vine cuttings, and you know someone who is building a garden – help them find each other. This can be done in a formalized way, through time banks and LETSystems, or gifting circles. But you don’t need to wait for such circles – just start listening. People tell you what they need – it spills over into conversation. What makes this practice different is, you pick up on those little indicators and match them with other people. Or, you start asking around: “Do you know anyone who wants to grow raspberries? A friend of mine has …”
Help others to understand the concept of a gifting culture. That it can become far more than just giving stuff to each other. A gift culture weaves new and different connections between people. It brings a different perspective on values and what is valuable within the society. It embodies a concept of Flow — which in many ways is the antithesis of “capital”. When we operate from within these new perspectives, distribution begins to change. Different people become standouts within society than within the old order.