Gift Economics

Gift Economics

I’m writing this for the website for 2 reasons. Firstly, because I offer many events by gifting or part gift-based and feel there is a need to explain the approach in more detail and the practicalities of joining a gift-based event with me. Gifts that I would like to receive may change over time so the idea is I’ll update this post to stay current. The second reason is because I am trying to promote the gift economy as the ‘natural economy’ as an alternative to the extraction-encouraging and relationship-fracturing current economic model, and so wanted to lay down some words about it.

Gift-based Weapons of Mass Creation events or services

To offer something in the spirit of the gift means that I want to freely give it to you, i.e. not expect anything in return. It is based on the trust that the receiver will truly feel it as a gift, and want to give in return. That mutual giving may be to me, or may be to pass on the gift. I trust you to do what feels right. 

For events with significant set up costs such as retreats, there may be a base fee, which assists in getting the event off the ground, then you may be invited to gifted above the base cost. 

Sometimes I may charge a small sign-up fee or other request for investment, because there’s a bit of a fine balance in gifting; the receiver needs to feel like they are really ready to receive the gift or there’s a danger the value of the gift being offered may be seen as reflective of the fact it is offered ‘for free.’ 

Current gifting considerations

At the moment I’m experimenting with my public events or community offering based on gifting as much as is practical and charging set fees for services provided to clients, with consideration to the fee based on the nature of the hiring organisation.

Right now I do appreciate receiving monetary gifts. If it is for a community event, like the meditations or connection cafes in the Treehouse, contribution via tea or snacks is usually a good one. Other service-based gifts I’m open to right now include:

  • web design and maintenance
  • graphic design
  • SEO assistance
  • help with venue research
  • help with event promotion
  • video production and editing

The philosophy of gifting and gift culture

You can listen to a talk I did comparing gift economics with the current economic system in terms of impacts on our psychology and ability to be fully human here

Much of the below is a highly-condensed paraphrasing of Charles Eisenstein’s work, so if you want to read more check out his podcasts and book, Sacred Economics. I’ve built on some of his ideas based on what I’ve noticed from my extended periods of time alone in nature. It formed the basis for my TEDx Salon talk in 2018 in response to the question, ‘Are we too selfish for the sharing economy?’

The current economic system
The global economic system is based on interest-bearing debt. When money is created (and it has to be created, because it is not an actual thing) debt is created. And there’s interest on the debt. So effectively there is always more debt than money. 
 
Therefore scarcity is inbuilt. Competition is inbuilt, which we are told is a good thing because that’s how evolution works, right? Except that the field of biology now understands that is an outdated understanding, there is far more cooperation and symbiosis within and between species than ever imagined. This focus on competition emerges from the same outdated worldview that created our economic system, based on the premise of a separate self.
 
As we vie for scarce resources, individual is pitted against individual, country against country. But with more debt than money, there are always losers and in order to not be the loser we need to keep economic growth going, which gives rise to the business model of capitalism – take something people used to do for each other, or some form or ‘natural capital’ and turn into a product or service aka financial capital. This is debasing the substrate of life – taking complex things i.e. nature and social fabric and turning them into simple things, i.e. money – and is literally the definition of a self-terminating system (thanks, Daniel Schmachtenberger for providing that concise summary). Destruction of society and planet ensues. So, no, I don’t really buy the idea that we can save the planet through conscious capitalism, until the system upon which it is based is dramatically changed.
 

The natural economy – gift economics

What is a gift? A gift is when you give something away freely, without expectation of receiving something in return. In a gift economy, while there is a flow of resources between members, there is no, ‘now you owe me’ – it is subtler than that. You don’t need to be giving back to the person who gave you a gift to begin with. A web of relationship provides the medium for gifts to operate and function as an economy, i.e. a system to take care of the village.
 
Gift economies are nature’s operating system, used to maintain balance in an ecosystem. All beings of nature have gifts that they offer to other beings, which form a web of relationships that make up an eco-system. 
 
Competition is a win-lose scenario. Whereas we see win-win relationships, i.e. cooperation and symbiosis, everywhere in nature. As a simple example, cleaner fish attend to their shark hosts, receiving food and safety; their hosts don’t eat them. Even how each species is designed can be thought as gifts. The purpose of each animal is not simply to propagate itself as a species e.g. chickens lay more eggs than they need to hatch their chicks; one of their gifts is to provide food. 
 
*Note, I am aware I am simplifying the competition vs cooperation discussion. These are not mutually exclusive phenomena. As Daniel Schmachtenberger says, competition on the micro scale leads to macro symbiosis, where there is a symmetry of power. But this is a huge discussion and would involve the need to explain complexity science which I’m not tackling just yet!!
 
We would do well to remember that we are actually nature and we too, live as part of ecosystems, so we could probably learn a few things from how nature works. Of course Indigenous people never forgot this, always lived it, and also operated almost entirely on gift economics (barter was rarer than we used to think; evidence of trading was interpreted by well-meaning anthropologists as bartering out of the view that transactions meant the society was in some way ‘advanced’). 
 
There are three less tangible aspects of a gift economy that I wish to highlight, which point to its deep significance, or, the impact in its absence.
 

1. To invoke the spirit of the gift, practice gratitude. 

This is one of the main points Charles Eisenstein talks about. When you receive a gift, what do you feel? Gratitude. That means you want to honour both the gift and the giver and that you want to give in return. 
 
The case for the evolutionary advantage of cultures of gratitude is compelling. Indigenous stories are full of cautionary tales about the failure of gratitude and the prioritisation of self-interest. When people forget to honour the gift, the consequences are material as well as spiritual. And we lose this expression of reciprocity in our money system. Of course, gratitude is good for us individually too, proven to make us happier, and is essentially the opposite of living in scarcity. Real wealth is when you feel that you have enough that you can give it away. Gratitude instigates this feeling of abundance.
 
All you can really do to ensure you have everything you need, is to give. 
 

2. Concept of Self

Gifting helps reveal our inherent interconnectedness. Gifting instigates a positive cycle of building and thickening of relationship that leads to more gifting. The deeper our sense of relatedness the more the boundaries of self become porous and the more meaningless the very idea of selfishness becomes.When we realise that we are nature, that we are ‘the other’, that we are interconnectedness in action and that my thriving depends on your thriving, relationships become really all that matter. 
 

3. Purpose, power & community

*This is a massive topic too, that I’m probably not really doing justice to by skimming over, but anyway here are some thought starters! Feel free to add on these in the comments 🙂

Some of my favourite moments from running retreats in nature have been when participants have realised just how being alive is a gift, that life is constantly bestowing us with little, tiny, beautiful gifts such as sunlight on our face and air to breathe. We didn’t have to earn these things. The full manifestation of feeling life is a gift is to live your life as an expression of gratitude, and that means understanding your purpose and therefore the unique gifts you have to share. I don’t necessarily always talk about this when I’m running a vision quest, but it definitely is part of my motivating understanding of why I’m doing it.

The current economic system is, by design (as I described above), about scarcity and this implies it is also about maintaining a certain power structure. Debt can very directly enslave, of course, and the impacts of this are massive, but there is also a more subtle effect on our psychology I want to mention. If the fundamental definition of what it is to be ’empowered’ is to have the ability to create, then the current economic system is truly disempowering. Only a handful of people can truly create in this system, the ones who say ‘let there be money’ and it is so. 

The fact that money is homogenous is also interesting to consider. Money takes away the power of communities too because we don’t directly need each other anymore, we can just buy the same thing off somebody else. In effect, the current system robs us of our creative power. 

Conversely, how does it feel when you give a gift? To me, even when it’s a Christmas gift (something that I don’t totally agree with but still do anyway), I try to somehow make the gift an expression of myself. Gift enables us to re-imagine ourselves as creative beings. And, bringing that back to the point about purpose and personal gifts, when do you feel full of your own power? When you are giving your gifts!

Where our current system cannot ultimately be anything but destructive, a gift economy is inherently negentropic i.e. promotes coherence and generativity. In the quests that I run I hear the most beautiful stories of what people want to be able to give to the world (but often are restricted by an economic system that does not support certain expressions of gifts) and I truly feel that if everyone was able to give their gifts in their fullest highest expression then the rest would be taken care of. Just like nature, the system works when everyone is freely offering their gifts.

Coming back to gift economics as the natural economy, an interesting definition of indigeneity that I have heard is, ‘one who feels and understands their connection to their place, to their ecology, so that they understand how they can be of service,’ i.e. give their gifts. 

Sense of calling doesn’t come from yourself, it comes from this interconnected web of being that is our world, extending you an invitation to come share your gifts. This is an invitation that draws out our latent humanity, making us more fully human in the sharing.
 
The GIFT OF THE HUMAN and coming into our adulthood

So I hope you are getting the picture that a gift economy is a way of entering into a sacred relationship with ourselves and the rest of life.  This is part of our maturing as a global society. We are collectively moving through the ‘taking’ focus we have during childhood (and is appropriate, for children), through an initiatory period of adolescence and out the other side realising our gift to the rest of life on earth as carers of everything.

After all, ‘economic”s etymological meaning is ‘stewardship of the village or household.’

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