In the past months, I’ve seen many around me without the nine-to-five employment that has been a standard in our society. While fear about lack of money has been present at least some of the time, I see many using this time creatively to pursue long-cherished interests or develop special projects. In this way, the economic change has been a blessing allowing society to spend more time doing what they are passionate about.
The economic change has affected me, too. It has been an opportunity to look at my fears of losing money, and recognize how little stands behind those fears. If I were to live without fear of losing money, what would my life be? Much of my life would be the same, as I have adamantly pursued my ideals – though I would feel much more ease.
Working through this fear, I recognized that money is an area in which nearly all of us feel pain. I recognized that the pain many currently experience is a perfect opportunity to create more compassion in ourselves and our society. I envision a gift economy based on compassion, where all have access to a life of ease.
I’ve had glimpses of this gift economy. I live with friends, and we often receive food from each other without expecting equal exchange. When I didn’t own a car, I often received rides; now I offer rides to others. In my communities, individuals have asked for and received donations to attend a special workshop or just make it through the month. At the vibrant Burning Man festival, 48,000+ people come together to live and play in a gift culture, without money or trade.
What is money? Money has been separate from the gold standard for nearly four decades. It is simply backed by our trust and belief in its value. It represents an exchange, and its value is portable between unrelated situations because of our agreement that it has value.
People have imagined and created ways of exchanging without money. Local complementary currency systems abound, facilitating people meeting each others’ needs within their own communities. The Swiss WIR was created by 16 Swiss businessmen who exchanged services amongst themselves in the currency shortages of the 1930s. It has proven immune to economic crises, and some say it contributes to the stability of the Swiss economy. Barter networks range in style from business (International Monetary Systems, Itex) to social networking (Commuto, SwapThing).
What if we were to take the opportunity of this economic shift to create a new relationship to money? This would take a shift toward compassion and trust. Imagine receiving without giving in return, knowing that you contribute elsewhere. Imagine giving because you know how good it feels to receive, and you know there is plenty.
I have practiced giving and receiving money this way. With friends, I have practiced giving or receiving a few dollars, for no reason other than to experience letting go of expectation that there will be equal exchange.
What if we were to create a new economy, where all have access to prosperity? What if the fear and lack that we experience today were transmuted into compassion and trust? What if we were to create a gift economy?