La recuperación de la cultura del regalo
Un boletín de Shikshantar
De diciembre de 2008
La recuperación de la cultura del regalo
Compilado y editado por: Manish Jain y Jain Shilpa
Obra: Soleado Gandhrva
Shikshantar: Los Pueblos Instituto
Repensar la Educación y Desarrollo
83, Adinath Nagar
Udaipur, Rajasthan 313004 India
www.swaraj.org / Shikshantar
Gracias a los amigos del Instituto Berkana por su aliento y
las provocaciones en la elaboración de este diálogo intercultural sobre la cultura del don.
Copyleft * 12 2008
* El presente documento puede ser reproducido y compartido libremente, con fuentes y autores
tabla de contenidos
la bienvenida a
- Manish Jain - 5
la destrucción de la fábula del homo economicus - Bill Ellis - 10
volver a conectar con la cultura del don y de nosotros mismos - centro amy - 14
una revisión de Marcel Mauss - David Graeber - 21
llegar al corazón de la localización - Helena Norberg Hodge - 25
economía solidaria - Ethan milller - 28
el círculo grande - Yuliya filippovska - 33
en Malí - Coumba Toure - 34
de mal necesario para bien necesario - Daniel Perera - 39
giftculture: la cosecha todo el tiempo - Shammi nanda - 43
el cuerno de la abundancia de los bienes comunes - David Bollier - 50
¿por qué abrir un restaurante libre, de todos modos? - Ankur Shah - 60
el don de la cafetería del mundo - amy LENZO, hurley tom y Juanita Brown - 68
transformación de la comunidad es libre - Rick Smyre - 73
ciclo yatra - Shilpa Jain - 77
regalos de la naturaleza - Manish Bapna - 82
recordar a un poeta de crianza - jack herranen - 84
redescubrir la alegría de regalar - dandage shetal - 89
charityfocus: la organización de regalo - Nipun Mehta - 94
institucionalización de regalo - Ivan Illich - 102
ayudando vs regalos - Marianne Gronemeyer - 104
sagrada la economía 101 - Christopher R. Lindstrom - 107
el rey de la bondad - Mark Shepard - 114
mis experimentos con la intimidad - Nitin Paranjape - 120
regalos y la esfera pública - maralena Murphy y leis jenny - 125
dones de sanación - Madhu Suri Prakash - 128
- También existe el ritual de manwar, que es un acto cultural de la oferta, el intercambio de uno mismo, de su casa
y los alimentos, con sus invitados, con aspirit de gran hospitalidad y atención. Nadie debe dejar sentir
descuidado. No está diciendo en Mewari que sus invitados deben ser tratados con el mismo afecto que usted
tratar a su hijo en la ley también. Manwar se vive en torno a bodas y otros tipos de reuniones, pero
que sucede en una casa pequeña escala, sólo cuando se visita otro.
- La práctica tradicional de GUPT daan significa literalmente "no revelado dar". Que se utiliza para dar
donaciones en el entendimiento de que nadie, incluido el receptor, debe saber de dónde viene.
Esto protegería el receptor de la humillación y ayudar a los que da mantener su sentido de la humildad. También se
nos protege de la trampa de tener expectativas de recibir algo a cambio después de dar un regalo. Gupt
Daan está en marcado contraste con las prácticas modernas de campañas de relaciones públicas y sesiones de fotos que rodea
donaciones y el esfuerzo voluntario.
- El paradigma de Jain aparigraha (no la codicia y la posesividad no) sirve como suave
recordatorio de que no debe aferrarse a las cosas o desear con demasiada fuerza ya que no somos "dueños" de la vida, pero
en lugar de su patronato. También nos anima a ir más allá de la codicia ilimitada y pensar en lo nuestro verdadero
necesidades. De esta manera, se crea un campo sano para participar en un discurso de auto-impuesta y auto-
Cuando uno realmente se sienta a pensar en ello, la lista es interminable. Hay muchos "modernos"
formas en que la cultura del regalo está siendo invocado y probado tan bien. Hemos estado tratando de explorar
estas como una parte esencial de nuestro trabajo en Shikshantar en los últimos 10 años. Esto comienza con nuestra
Centro Comunitario de Aprendizaje en el que no cobra nada por la participación. Al mismo tiempo, se dice
no es "libre". Invitamos a la gente a venir y compartir los talentos, el conocimiento, la energía, las preguntas que
que tienen y tomar lo que les inspira. Esto ha llevado a muchas innovaciones interactionsand emocionante.
Este espíritu se extiende a todas las actividades de Udaipur, la ciudad de Aprendizaje, donde dependen en gran medida en la invitación
en la energía de voluntarios - el instinto natural de las personas a compartir su tiempo, habilidades y recursos de aprendizaje con
entre sí - para recuperar y cuidar nuestros bienes comunes de aprendizaje. Muchos "privado" los espacios, servicios y bienes
han sido llevados de vuelta al servicio de los ciudadanos / buena comunidad. Los locales han sido sede de Udaipur
talleres en sus casas, sino que han abierto sus galerías de arte, oficinas, cocinas y granjas a los visitantes;
que han traído sus conocimientos y talentos para participar en nuevos experimentos colectivos en la azotea
la agricultura, la recogida de aguas pluviales, mural de decisiones, tienen freecycled sus materiales de desecho sobrante (restos
de madera, tubos de goma de los neumáticos, restos de tela, tarjetas de bodas antiguas, etc) para los talleres con los niños - todo esto sin
una rupia para ser intercambiado o demandas de autodeterminación y la promoción en los medios de comunicación. Este tipo de espíritu de voluntariado ha
presupuesto habilitado Shikshantar a bajar todos los años, mientras que el movimiento se expande a nuevos individuos,
familias, barrios, organizaciones y lugares.
Estamos tratando de experimentar con muchas otras maneras de reducir nuestra dependencia colectiva sobre la epidemia mundial
Mercado y regenerar la cultura local de la generosidad, la hospitalidad, la auto-define los límites y la colaboración.
Varios niños y jóvenes se han metido en este espíritu de hacer cosas útiles a partir de los residuos con sus
las manos. Una persona joven que llega a Shikshantar, Ankit, ha hecho y dotado con más de 200 piezas únicas
de la joyería de coco para los amigos y familiares. También ha "pagado a seguir" el arte de hacer joyas a varios
cientos de niños y jóvenes en los talleres auto-organizados. También estamos trabajando en la recuperación de las formas de jugar
desde el mundo de la competición y la comercialización. Hemos compartido libremente un montón de juegos cooperativos
con miles de niños y familias en Udaipur. Muchos de estos juegos destacan el sabio principio de que
si una persona "fracasa" o "fuera", es el fracaso de todos.
También hemos estado experimentando con nuestra orgánica mela (un festival o feria) como un vehículo para el fortalecimiento de
los mercados locales. Es un espacio tanto para la venta de productos orgánicos, locales y naturales, así como para compartir
ideas para que la gente puede aprender a hacer sus propias cosas. Por ejemplo, aunque las joyas o la cerámica se encuentra en
pantalla, no es a la vez un taller pasando sin costo alguno, donde la gente puede tomar sus propias decisiones
joyas de materiales naturales y los residuos, o un torno de alfarero para tratar de arrojar botes de uno mismo. Nosotros
abierta para compartir recetas de alimentos saludables y los tratamientos a base de hierbas e invitar a otros a hacer lo mismo.
Nos hemos inspirado en la práctica sagrada de muchos curanderos tradicionales en nuestra región, y se han
lejos de poner un precio fijo en los productos a base de hierbas que hacemos, para invitar a la gente a contribuir con lo
ellos sienten que es apropiado en función de su sraddha (fe) y la capacidad.
La cultura del regalo también ha sido una característica integral de nuestro continuo diálogo intercultural y publicaciones.
Ha ayudado a crear un campo de una profundidad distinta de la conversación. Cientos de personas han compartido sus
pensamientos por escrito con nosotros (en Mewari, el hindi y los idiomas Inglés) sin tener que pedir en concepto de honorarios.
Hacemos todas nuestras publicaciones disponibles en línea, de forma gratuita en la impresión, y copyleft (capaz de ser reproducido
y compartido libremente, con los autores y fuentes reconocidas). Como todos sabemos, nuestros saberes, creatividades
y profundos conocimientos han venido de tantas fuentes: ¿cómo podemos poner un precio a ellos?
En este lector, hemos tratado de compartir historias diversas, puntos de vista y marcos conceptuales en torno a la donación
la cultura. Los contribuyentes se les pidió responder a preguntas como:
¿Por qué la cultura del regalo hoy?
¿Cómo hemos sido inspirados por la cultura del regalo?
¿Cuáles son las diferentes tradiciones de la cultura de regalos de todo el mundo?
¿Cuáles son las posibilidades de la cultura del regalo de nuestros tiempos difíciles?
¿Cómo podemos llevar la cultura del don prácticamente en nuestras vidas, comunidades, organizaciones?
¿Cuáles son los desafíos para dar a luz la cultura del regalo?
¿Qué es lo que tenemos que desaprender la cultura del don de manifestar?
¿Qué preguntas que tenemos que explorar más a fondo a fin de comprender la cultura del regalo?
Esperamos que esta publicación le inspirará para comprender mejor y recuperar la cultura del don de su vida y
de la comunidad. Le invitamos a compartir sus experiencias e ideas con nosotros.
Con gratitud y amor,
Manish, Shilpa y
la familia Shikshantar
La economía moderna y las culturas euro-americanas se basan en la supuesta realidad del homo economicus.
Es decir, que la única motivación de los seres humanos es el interés material. Dominique Temple y Mireille
Chabal libro "La Réciprocité et La Naissance des Valeurs Humaines"
examina todas las culturas a través de
la historia, incluyendo nuestra propia cultura moderna, y demuestra que las motivaciones humanas y los valores humanos
han sido distorsionadas sólo en los últimos cien años, y con vehemencia más en los últimos años
décadas, para convertirse en base a los valores que están destruyendo a la humanidad y la vida en la Tierra. La reciprocidad es
más fundamental y más amigo del hombre y la naturaleza.
La reciprocidad es la antítesis del cambio o la venta. Reciprocidad, o "regalos", ha tomado muchas formas en
las diferentes culturas. En algunos casos, está inmersa en la religión. Las personas producen y distribuyen bienes y servicios
en la celebración de sus creencias espirituales. Su trabajo es un regalo para los dioses, a la Tierra, y para la humanidad,
sin pensar en devolver el material. En otras culturas, la producción es para el bien común. Es decir,
las personas se ven integrados en sus familias y comunidades. Sólo existen a causa de su
relaciones con otras personas y su bioregión. Y estas relaciones dependen de la función productiva
que juegan - lo mucho que puede apoyar y dar a la sociedad. En otros, el bienestar material es de suma importancia;
pero de seguro las ganancias de ella ni de su bienestar material por dar a los demás.
1 Publicado por Ediciones L'Harmattan, rue 5-7 de L'Ecole Polytechnique, F-75005 Paris Francia, de 1995, en francés.
"Al que da le será dado." Cada persona gana prestigio en la sociedad por la cantidad de s / da. Que
prestigio exige reciprocidad a la que da y el que la familia del donante. Cuanto más se empobrece
a sí mismo en beneficio de la comunidad, más la comunidad está en deuda con el donante.
Esta reciprocidad, en el que casi todas las culturas se basan, es el único vilipendiado por la teoría económica neoliberal,
que se niega a reconocer que la producción y distribución puede basarse en otra cosa que la codicia y la
intercambio - renunciar a algo sólo para ganar algo más. Esta teoría económico distorsionado de
cambio va mucho más allá "el mercado". El razonamiento económico ha invadido la sociología, la educación,
política, la ética y la ley. Homo Economicus se cree que es base de todos los valores y juicios sobre los derechos económicos
valores de cambio, lo que se puede obtener material. Es sólo en esta sociedad occidental que distorsiona la reciprocidad
ha sido sometido al concepto de cambio.
Bronislaw Malinowski, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Marcel Mauss, Sahlins Marshall y otros antropólogos han
muestra las profundas raíces de la reciprocidad, Aristóteles, Homero, Hobbes, y trazar otros filósofos políticos
reciprocidad por parte de los griegos como la base de nuestra sociedad occidental, y Hegel, Adam Smith, Durkheim,
Polanyi y otros economistas, describe la relevancia de reciprocidad para la época en que se pulg Pero es el futuro
que en realidad se refiere a Temple y Chabal. El dinero, el intercambio y la globalización han sustituido a los humanos
valores inherentes a la reciprocidad con las motivaciones que conducen al desarrollo social, ecológico, económico y
la destrucción política.
Reciprocidad profunda en nosotros mismos, nuestras familias y nuestras comunidades, pero es reprimida por nuestra creencia
sistema y sus instituciones sociales resultantes. Vemos la reciprocidad en el voluntariado, en nuestro familles, en nuestra
comunidades, y en muchas de las innovaciones de base social. Nuestro futuro sólo puede garantizarse si liberamos este
fuerza constructiva de la reciprocidad. O como al final los autores de este libro, "Incluso un esclavo es libre de actuar en un don
(O la reciprocidad) de modo. "
Todos práctica la reciprocidad hasta cierto punto. Dentro de nuestras familias, que no piden "intercambio justo" de
los demás o la medida de sus contribuciones en términos de dinero. A todos nos dan a los amigos en un modo de reciprocidad y
contribuir a una buena causa. Colonos, como yo, dar a la comunidad mediante la distribución de excedentes
de nuestros jardines entre sí. Y, a menudo, hacemos llegar que el intercambio con grupos de cuidado de niños, granero
pasas, y otras acciones comunitarias de cooperación.
Mi último intento de promover estas ideas es en el trabajo para obtener el reconocimiento de un sistema de alimentación de dos niveles,
a través de un cuerpo mundial de alimentos y programas locales. Ellos a) determinar qué cultivos producidos localmente se
proporcionar la dieta mínima por la existencia, b) capacitar a todas las personas locales cómo hacer crecer los cultivos, c) capacitar a locales
voluntarios en la horticultura es necesario, d) formar un grupo de voluntarios globales para trabajar en las comunidades locales
en todo el mundo para promover la autosuficiencia local en la dieta mínima, y e) alertar a los gobiernos y
filántropos al llanto necesidad de evitar la inanición ahora y prevenir la escasez de alimentos para todos en la
venir en el futuro. Gran parte de esto ya está en su lugar. Cuerpo de Paz, clubes 4-H, WWOOF (trabajadores dispuestos Por
Granjas Orgánicas), CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), cooperativas de alimentos, y muchos otros deben trabajar
juntos para asegurar un suministro adecuado de alimentos para cada persona en el mundo. Cualquier cosa más allá de que
mínimo podría permanecer en el mercado de dinero, y el resto a través de un sistema de apoyo local, recíproco.
En su libro El don: la vida erótica de la Propiedad (1983), Lewis Hyde expresa
el espíritu de una economía del don (y su contraste con una economía de mercado) de la siguiente manera:
"[W] hatever se nos ha dado se supone que es regalado no se mantiene.
O, si se mantiene, algo de valor similar debe pasar en su lugar ...
[E] l regalo puede ser devuelto a su donante original, pero esto no es
esenciales ... El único esencial es la siguiente:. el regalo debe mover siempre "
Más adelante señala que la economía del regalo tradicional se basa en "la
obligación de dar, la obligación de aceptar, y la obligación de
reciprocidad ", y que es", a la vez económicas, jurídicas, morales, estéticos
religiosos y mitológicos. "
Hyde dice que hay una diferencia entre un "verdadero" regalo dado de
agradecimiento y un "falso" regalo dado sólo por obligación. En vista de Hyde, el
"Verdadero" regalo que nos une de una manera más allá de cualquier transacción mercantil, pero "
en realidad no puede ser obligado a los que nos dan regalos falsos. "
A principios de este año, hubo una discusión entre amigos sobre el recurso en línea, The Freecycle
conocer con el fin de compartir libremente recursos. Yo valoro las posibilidades positivas de un sitio web, sin embargo, también estoy
cuidado que no sustituyen a las redes locales, las comunidades, las tradiciones y prácticas culturales que son
basado en las relaciones con los tecnológicamente mediada. Esta idea me llevó a tratar de articular algunos de mis
experiencias de directo, basado en las relaciones de redes locales para la práctica de la cultura del regalo. Este proceso de articulación
es paralela a la recuperación de mi propio de una cultura de regalo a través de la acción.
En mi experiencia, la cultura de regalo está motivada por un sentimiento de conexión con la humanidad y la naturaleza. La
conectividad asociados con la cultura de regalo es el núcleo de lo que significa que me siento vivo y sano.
Cuando alejados de estas conexiones, el miedo tiene más poder, y la esperanza se hace más difícil de entender.
Cuando en contacto con estas conexiones, los sentidos falsos de derecho se marchitan, y los recursos
valorada como colectiva y planetaria. Al mismo tiempo, al adoptar un punto de vista que cada uno tiene dones para
acción, las definiciones de privilegio se amplían, y puede un renovado sentido de empoderamiento y la posibilidad de
Cuando era niño mi familia tenía menos dinero que aquellos que viven a nuestro alrededor, pero no me sentía "pobres", porque
la cultura dentro de mi casa era vibrante y rico. Mi padre, con su cocina creativa disposiciones,
demostró la belleza de restos transformando en algo nutritivo. Se alimentaban de hojas verdes en el
barrio, encontrar cosas cada vez violentamente en calles y espacios desatendidos, como el cenizo del medio oeste
(Conocido por nosotros de la India como una especie de butuwa). Aunque, a veces, teníamos dinero limitado para la alimentación, este
alimentación también fue motivada por un deseo de no ver la buena comida van a perder. Al ver el valor de algo
suele pasar por alto me ayudó a mirar a los espacios cotidianos con un sentido de potencial.
Nuestra casa siempre estaba llena de un flujo de personas que viven y compartir la vida con nosotros, muchos de ellos de carácter internacional
estudiantes, académicos, inmigrantes o refugiados que aterrizó en Chicago para una miríada de razones. No se
siempre hay lugar para todos, siempre la sensación de que la comida podía ser estirado y en el espacio posibles, incluso cuando el
la oferta fue modesto. A través de la gente que fluía a través de nuestra casa, me relacionados con experiencias,
lugares y culturas que son diferentes de las mías, todo el mundo se sentía visceralmente interconectados. Mi
padres hospitalidad extrema arraigado un valor de: a compartir lo que había por encima de todas las cosas. Ahora siento que esta
es el mejor regalo que mis padres me dieron. He recibido tanto a través de esta práctica, de esta manera,
Estoy en deuda con ellos.
Uno de mis recuerdos más preciados infancia fue mi experiencia informal con lo que ahora se llama
"Freecycle. De niños, nos volveríamos a ir al exterior de una "tienda libre" de Chicago, para los refugiados y la comunidad
los trabajadores. Se creó como una tienda por departamentos regular, lo que permite a cada participante que ir dos veces al año y
tomar lo que quisiéramos. Toda mi ropa, zapatos y todo lo que provenía de esa tienda gratis, que era
mantenido por voluntarios, que en su mayoría se sentía como abuelas. Cuando era niño no puede ir a las tiendas de forma regular, de
la capacidad de elegir lo que quería de una variedad muy especial. Nos trajeron nuestra superado
artículos allí, y luego tomó otros de vuelta. Me ayudó a ser creativo y elegir lo que realmente me gustaba,
porque la colección no fue dictado por las modas del mercado de temporada. No se señaló a
algo porque era popular, pero por el color, la textura, patrón de la inspiración,. No va a regular
tiendas realmente me ayudó a tener más poder creativo. "Alguien de basura es el tesoro de otra persona",
ha sido así para mí.
En los eventos organizado por nuestra organización, Cordeles
propia. Que estuvo en parte motivada por Mark Shipley, un amigo que siempre se presenta en nuestra casa con su
las manos llenas de tesoros que compartir. Se sumerge en los contenedores de basura por toda la ciudad, encontrar y recuperar increíble
y alimentos especiales. Hablaba de cómo quería que fuera un lugar central para poder llevar el que las cosas
quiere compartir, porque no era práctico para entregar cada elemento rescatado a su mejor casa nueva. Ahora,
la gente trae las cosas a nuestra casa, lo puso todo, y otros toman lo que quieren de la colección.
La primera vez, llevó a grandes conversaciones sobre los alimentos cultivados, ya que había una vasija de cerámica de gran
que el pensamiento una persona que sería bueno para kambucha, mientras que otro dijo kimchi. Esto llevó a una decisión de
tener un intercambio de habilidades de fermentación. De un regalo crecieron muchos! Vamos a seguir haciendo esto, y espero que
puede crecer. Eventualmente puede incluir incluso a los transeúntes, en movimiento fuera de ella ya que el clima se calienta. Yo
puede imaginar que estas en toda la ciudad, liberando así las cosas útiles del relleno sanitario, invitando a otros a recoger las
objetos de valor, y cumplir con nuestros vecinos en el proceso.
Regalar es un término que también escuché de mi madre-en-ley al principio de mi matrimonio. En la comunidad de mi esposo
en Trinidad y Tobago, y entre algunos pueblos del Caribe en los EE.UU., hay un concepto de reciprocidad
financiación, denominada susu. Tiene sus raíces en África occidental, donde miembros de la comunidad contribuyan con dinero
a una piscina comunitaria. El dinero ayudaría a los miembros de la susu con problemas de flujo de caja, proporcionando
acceso a un tipo de estructura de la banca informal que había sido negado históricamente a nivel formal. Todos
miembros de poner en una cantidad que luego entra en una piscina. Los miembros reciben la piscina a su vez, como un
cuenta de ahorro para algunos, o un préstamo sin o con bajo interés para los demás.
Me encanta la susu, porque demuestra cómo las comunidades pueden ayudar a apoyar unos a otros, manteniendo
dinero dentro. Cuando tenemos nuestro dinero en un banco grande, que a menudo tienen poco o ningún control de lo que sucede
a la misma. Algunos bancos utilizan nuestro dinero para todo tipo de efectos indeseables. En contraste, las personas dentro de un susu puede
suelen conocer y ver lo que sucede con su dinero, dando testimonio la gente usa el dinero para realizar todo tipo de
necesidades y aspiraciones. Puede ser muy positivo para sentirse como una parte de que a nivel público. El desarrollo de muchos
grupos de introducir micro-créditos que están creciendo en popularidad a medida que las nuevas ideas, pero la verdad es que
que han existido por generaciones en las tradiciones como susu. Yo lo veo como un modelo de reciprocidad, financiamiento, y
sentido un enorme potencial para que sea utilizado de manera creativa para todo tipo de grupos e individuos para tener acceso a
fondos de una manera mutuamente beneficiosa. Me puedo imaginar un modelo como este para los artistas para hacer pequeños proyectos en
una rotación de doce meses. Doce artistas, doce regalos de la mutualidad de cada mes, doce proyectos de arte?
Twine es, sin duda interesado en iniciar un susu!
Cultura del regalo es para construir vínculos con los demás, no sólo sobre la reducción de residuos y el consumo.
Necesitamos gente en nuestras vidas - la gente para ayudar a llevar cosas pesadas, para alimentarnos, cuando estamos enfermos, etc son
no 'molestar' a las personas cuando somos dependientes de ellos. Desde edades tempranas, los que existen en capitalista global
ajustes están a cargo de nuestro entorno que la dependencia es mala. El "sueño americano" se trata de aceptar
una ilusión de independencia con el dinero. Las personas más pobres en términos monetarios la sociedad se equiparan con
debilidad, a pesar de que sus experiencias son a menudo lugares donde la verdadera fuerza, el coraje y la sabiduría
surgir. No hay que idealizar la pobreza y las privaciones y el sufrimiento genuino abrumadora conectado a
la falta de acceso monetario, sino que trato de definir la "pobreza" diferente a la simple falta de dinero, o incluso la falta
de los alimentos en abundancia. Por favor, también recuerde los muchos que comen en grandes cantidades y están todavía desnutridos.
Por favor, no me malinterpreten. Yo soy un tipo de empresario. Me encanta de negocios, y me encanta ver a la gente
alcanzar el éxito financiero con ideas creativas - pero no en el sacrificio de todas las demás normas. El comercio justo
el movimiento no debe ser tan pequeña. Debemos contar con el costo de la compra de bienes convencionales que no es
en nuestro proyecto personal, sino que se añade a la factura de toda la sociedad y el mundo, a menudo a expensas de la
las pequeñas comunidades. Lo que vemos como asequibles y "barato" a menudo es la más costosa para la humanidad y
de la naturaleza.
Como el libre comercio se extiende una versión de la empresa, que los beneficios que los sistemas locales de romper, compartiendo nuestra
los recursos también pueden ser de resistir ese cambio. Cultura del regalo se resiste a la separación entre las personas y
los recursos. Si me acerco a la interacción con todos los demás como un intercambio de dones, mis valores que debe seguir
la apertura, para dar como recibir. No puedo asumir que yo soy sólo el que da o simplemente el receptor.
Cuando estamos regalos, también estamos recibiendo.
Y nunca se sabe quién puede estar abierto a regalar! Hace poco tuve una oferta inesperada de un trabajador de la salud
al comercio de arte para el tratamiento, sino que fue una gran sorpresa! Compartir, intercambiar y regalar la mano de obra para grandes proyectos
es una manera enorme para apoyar unos a otros para hacer cosas que encontramos sentido, pero percibimos a nosotros mismos que carecen de la
tiempo para. Pocos proyectos pueden mantenerse completamente solo, por lo que invita a otros a nuestras acciones, puede crear
vitalidad y la sostenibilidad. Se construye la comunidad, nos permite experimentar una colección más diversa de
actividades, y evita el desgaste. Se puede transformar nuestro sentido del tiempo.
Esto parece muy simple, pero tengo que admitir, para mí, no ha sido un proceso fácil. Sin darme cuenta, me había
adoptó una visión muy distorsionada de la autosuficiencia que no tiene nada que ver con la verdadera autosuficiencia. En lugar
de la sustitución de las relaciones con los bienes de consumo, creo que tenemos que navegar por las necesidades de personal en el
contexto de la comunidad. Ahora estoy cada vez más para invitar a otros de forma más fluida, para pedir ayuda sin vergüenza, y
crear espacios para la co-creación.
En una organización y el nivel de negocio, mucha gente en 'sin fines de lucro "el trabajo no son capaces de colaborar
debido a un sentido de competencia por los recursos, beneficios, y único "éxito". En realidad, más saludables
el diálogo, regalos pueden mejorar nuestro acceso colectivo a los recursos y nuestra efectividad en el cumplimiento de nuestros
"Misiones de mayor envergadura". Muchas personas están apagados por las prácticas de vida sostenible, porque sienten que
toma el trabajo demasiado o es demasiado costoso. Esto es especialmente cierto en el nivel de los individualistas
los consumidores sociales de paradigma. Pero cuando podemos formar alianzas no competitivo, cambia enormemente. Yo puedo,
por ejemplo, formar parte de varios grandes jardines, como madre de un niño con una capacidad limitada. Saludable
la comunidad nos puede mantener responsables a las versiones mejor de nosotros mismos.
Creo que tomar este riesgo de la participación es fundamental para la eliminación de formas opresivas de estar en el mundo.
Tanto la "privacidad" y la "seguridad" son agresivamente a los consumidores. Estas interpretaciones deben ser
desmantelado, porque interrumpen la capacidad de las personas a colaborar con sus vecinos y hacer nuevas amistades.
Llevada al extremo, cuando la privacidad y la seguridad se valoran por encima de la comunidad, que deja espacio para hacer daño
alguien cercano a nosotros sin nuestro conocimiento o aviso. En este clima, el individuo, en mi opinión, pierde
su / su poder sin siquiera darse cuenta. Nosotros como sociedad demasiado ocupado para ser sensible a cualquier
pérdida colectiva que tienen lugar. Menciono esto, porque siento que es un obstáculo para nosotros para llegar a
gente que nos rodea.
Uno puede preguntarse, "¿Por qué debería participar en la cultura de donación, si no puedo hacerlo?" Mi pregunta es, "¿Puede usted realmente
permitir no hacerlo? "Al no participar en la cultura del don, y en lugar de sólo con dinero, no dejamos de promover la
salud colectiva y personal y la felicidad? Tal vez, somos insensibles a estas pérdidas y se
dispuestos a comerciar con ellos en gran parte sin examen. Tal vez por eso nuestras necesidades básicas de salud orgánica
alimentos, la comunidad cálida y la expresión son vistos como "lujos".
Mi madre-en-ley, una persona profundamente espiritual, da a entender que hay un tipo de apertura que pueden surgir
cuando son regalos. A menudo no es aislado a un solo cambio específico, pero puede convertirse en una invitación para
otros "regalos" o bendiciones para llegar a nuestras vidas. Algunos días, veo regalos como un flujo verdaderamente espiritual. Otro
días, lo veo como una forma de ver / notar en el mundo. Desde ambos puntos de vista, mi vida se enriquece.
“Societies have progressed in so far as they themselves, their
subgroups, and lastly, the individuals in them, have succeeded in
stabilizing relationships, giving, receiving, and finally giving in return. A
trade, the first condition was to be able to lay aside the spear. De
then onwards, they succeeded in exchanging goods and persons, no
longer between clans, but between tribes and nations, and above all,
between individuals. Only then did people learn how to create mutual
interest, giving mutual satisfaction, and in the end, to defend them
without having to resort to arms. Thus the clan, the tribe, and peoples
have learnt how to oppose and give to one another without sacrificing
themselves to one another. This is what tomorrow, in our so-called
civilized world, classes and nations and individuals also, must learn. Este
is one of the enduring secrets of their wisdom and solidarity.”
- Marcel Mauss
The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, 1950
Marcel Mauss' essay on 'the gift' was, more than anything, his response to events in Russia — particularly
Lenin's New Economic Policy of 1921, which abandoned earlier attempts to abolish commerce. Si el
market could not simply be legislated away, even in Russia, probably the least monetarized European
society, then clearly, Mauss concluded, revolutionaries were going to have to start thinking a lot more
seriously about what this 'market' actually was, where it came from, and what a viable alternative to it
might actually be like. It was time to bring the results of historical and ethnographic research to bear.
Mauss' conclusions were startling. First of all, almost everything that 'economic science' had to say on
the subject of economic history turned out to be entirely untrue. The universal assumption of free market
enthusiasts, then as now, was that what essentially drives human beings is a desire to maximize their
pleasures, comforts and material possessions (their 'utility'), and that all significant human interactions
can thus be analyzed in market terms. In the beginning, goes the official version, there was barter.
People were forced to get what they wanted by directly trading one thing for another. Since this was
inconvenient, they eventually invented money as a universal medium of exchange. The invention of
further technologies of exchange (credit, banking, stock exchanges) was simply a logical extension.
The problem was, as Mauss was quick to note, there is no reason to believe a society based on barter
has ever existed. Instead, what anthropologists were discovering were societies where economic life was
based on utterly different principles, and most objects moved back and forth as gifts — and almost
everything we would call 'economic' behavior was based on a pretense of pure generosity and a refusal to
calculate exactly who had given what to whom. Such 'gift economies' could on occasion become highly
competitive, but when they did it was in exactly the opposite way from our own: Instead of vying to see
who could accumulate the most, the winners were the ones who managed to give the most away. En
some notorious cases, such as the Kwakiutl of British Columbia, this could lead to dramatic contests of
liberality, where ambitious chiefs would try to outdo one another by distributing thousands of silver
bracelets, Hudson Bay blankets or Singer sewing machines, and even by destroying wealth — sinking
famous heirlooms in the ocean, or setting huge piles of wealth on fire and daring their rivals to do the
All of this may seem very exotic. But as Mauss also asked: How alien is it, really? Is there not something
odd about the very idea of gift-giving, even in our own society? Why is it that, when one receives a gift
from a friend (a drink, a dinner invitation, a compliment), one feels somehow obliged to reciprocate in
tipo? Why is it that a recipient of generosity often somehow feels reduced if he or she cannot? Are these
not examples of universal human feelings, which are somehow discounted in our own society — but in
others were the very basis of the economic system? And is it not the existence of these very different
impulses and moral standards, even in a capitalist system such as our own, that is the real basis for the
appeal of alternative visions and socialist policies? Mauss certainly felt so.
In a lot of ways Mauss' analysis bore a marked resemblance to Marxist theories about alienation and
reification being developed by figures like György Lukács around the same time. In gift economies, Mauss
argued, exchanges do not have the impersonal qualities of the capitalist marketplace: In fact, even when
objects of great value change hands, what really matters is the relations between the people; exchange
is about creating friendships, or working out rivalries, or obligations, and only incidentally about moving
around valuable goods. As a result everything becomes personally charged, even property: In gift economies,
the most famous objects of wealth — heirloom necklaces, weapons, feather cloaks — always seem to
develop personalities of their own.
In a market economy it's exactly the other way around. Transactions are seen simply as ways of getting
one's hands on useful things; the personal qualities of buyer and seller should ideally be completely
irrelevant. As a consequence everything, even people, start being treated as if they were things too.
(Consider in this light the expression 'goods and services'.) The main difference with Marxism, however, is
that while Marxists of his day still insisted on a bottom-line economic determinism, Mauss held that in
past market-less societies — and by implication, in any truly humane future one — 'the economy,' in the
sense of an autonomous domain of action concerned solely with the creation and distribution of wealth,
and which proceeded by its own, impersonal logic, would not even exist.
Mauss was never entirely sure what his practical conclusions were. The Russian experience convinced
him that buying and selling could not simply be eliminated in a modern society, at least in the 'foreseeable
future,' but a market ethos could. Work could be co-operatized, effective social security guaranteed and,
gradually, a new ethos created whereby the only possible excuse for accumulating wealth was the ability
to give it all away. The result: a society whose highest values would be “the joy of giving in public, the
delight in generous artistic expenditure, the pleasure of hospitality in the public or private feast.”
Some of this may seem awfully naïve from today's perspective, but Mauss' core insights have, if anything,
become even more relevant now than they were 75 years ago — now that economic 'science' has
become, effectively, the revealed religion of the modern age.
“If we take an ants' nest, we not only see that every description of work — rearing
of progeny, foraging, building, rearing of aphides, and so on — is performed
according to the principles of voluntary mutual aid; we must also recognize that the
chief, the fundamental feature of the life of many species of ants is the fact and the
obligation for every ant of sharing its food, already swallowed and partly digested,
with every member of the community which many apply for it. Two ants belonging to
two different species or to two hostile nests, when they occasionally meet together,
will avoid each other. But two ants belonging to the same nest or to the same colony
of nests will approach each other, exchange a few movements with the antennae, and
'if one of them is hungry or thirsty, and especially if the other has its crop full… it
immediately asks for food.' The individual thus requested never refuses; it sets
apart its mandibles, takes a proper position, and regurgitates a drop of transparent
fluid which is licked up by the hungry ant. Regurgitating food for other ants is so
prominent a feature in the life of ants (at liberty) and it so constantly recurs both
for feeding hungry comrades and for feeding larvae, that Forel [a researcher]
considers the digestive tube of the ants as consisting of two different parts, one of
which, the posterior, is for the special use of the individual, and the other, the
anterior part, is chiefly for the use of the community.”
- Petr Kropotkin
Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, 1914
ETTING TO THE
Helena Norberg Hodge
I have had the great privilege of experiencing, first-hand, the benefits of a localised, human-scale, gift
When I first arrived in Ladakh or 'Little Tibet' over 30 years ago, the region was still relatively cut off from
the outside world. Yet, the Ladakhis were able to meet their basic needs through small-scale, diversified
farming and trade with neighbouring regions. They achieved far more than mere self-sufficiency. Aunque
natural resources were scarce and hard to obtain, they had a remarkably high standard of living, with
beautiful art, architecture and jewellery. Most Ladakhis only worked four months of the year, and this was
done at a gentle pace. They enjoyed a degree of leisure unknown to most people in the West.
Of course, there were none of the luxuries to which most of us in the West are accustomed. Sin embargo,
during my time in Ladakh, it became clear to me that this traditional, nature-based society was both
environmentally and socially more sustainable than the industrialised consumer culture I had grown up in.
The old culture fulfilled fundamental human needs, while respecting natural limits. The various connecting
relationships in the traditional system were mutually reinforcing, encouraging harmony and stability.
People were happy to help others, because they knew they would be helped in return. The good of the
group was synonymous with the good of the individual. No one felt obliged or put upon; it was simply a
natural way of life.
Over the past three decades, Ladakh has changed dramatically. In the 1970s, the area was thrown open
to tourism, Western-style development and, ultimately, the global market economy. Within a few years,
unemployment, poverty and pollution became commonplace. Ethnic friction between different communities
apareció. Fundamental to these negative changes was a shift away from a human-scale, gift economy
— based on non-monetary exchange of local resources and local knowledge — to an economy centred
around foreign capital and technology. Suddenly, the local market was flooded with imported goods,
including subsidised food, which undermined local agriculture.
In the new economy, jobs, health care and education were centralised in the capital, pulling people into
the dusty desert around the city. Children were educated for work in the modern sector. Jobs were
extremely scarce, and competition between people escalated. Media, advertising and tourism gave the
impression that, in the consumer culture, people lived lives of infinite wealth and leisure. This led young
Ladakhis to see their own culture as backward and inferior. The combination of increased economic
pressures (unemployment and competition) and psychological pressures led to tensions between Buddhists,
Muslims and Christians, culminating in violent conflict in 1989.
The changes in Ladakh are essentially the same as those that have transformed economic activity all
todo el mundo. However, most countries began the process hundreds of years ago, with colonialism
breaking down self-reliant economies and cultures. Because the changes occurred so recently and
rapidly in Ladakh, the cause and effect relationship is very clear.
As we search for solutions to our many global crises — social, environmental and economic — it is vital
that we better understand the impact of the global economy on cultures worldwide. In order to do so,
we need to revisit our history books and search out the evidence showing that countless cultures were
both sustainable and harmonious, before they were threatened by slavery, colonialism and the modern-
day enslavement of debt. We need to look towards cultures like Ladakh for lessons on how to rebuild
localised gift economies.
Turning away from economic globalisation and turning toward the local would help us create what I call
an 'economics of happiness'. In other words, through localisation, we could meet our needs — both
material and psychological — without compromising the
survival of life on earth. Decentralising economic activity,
from finance to industry to farming, can restore participatory
democracy, while simultaneously renewing the social and
ecological fabric. Instead of scaling government up,
localisation is about scaling business down. Business and
banking need to be place-based to allow culture and ethics
to shape commerce, rather than vice-versa.
Localisation is not about ending trade, nor is it about acting
only locally. For grassroots localisation efforts to succeed
and grow in the long term, they must be accompanied by
policy changes at the national and international level. Más bien
than thinking just in terms of isolated, scattered efforts,
we must demand government policies promote small scale
on a large scale , allowing space for community-based
economies to flourish and spread.
Human beings have long known how to conduct their
economic affairs in mutually beneficial ways. It is only
recently that we have gone off this path. It is time now to
shift direction toward rebuilding gift economies — the very
heart of economic localisation.
Let's assume that 'economy' is not just about supply-and-demand markets. In its largest sense, economics
is about how we as human beings collectively generate livelihoods in relation to each other and to the
Tierra. The human economy includes all of the varied social relationships that we create in the course of
meeting our needs and pursuing our dreams. Capitalism, with its 'free market economy', its 'jobs' and its
'wages', is only one part of how we actually create and maintain livelihoods in our families and communities.
When we peel away the misleading idea of one giant 'Economic System', we can begin to see the
workings of many different kinds of economies that are alive and well, supporting us below the surface.
These are not the economies of the stock-brokers and the 'expert' economists. These are our economies,
people's economies, the economies that we build with our everyday lives and relationships.
While they are incredibly diverse in their manifestations, many of these life-sustaining 'microeconomies'
share a common orientation towards subsistence — towards the ongoing reproduction of healthy and
mutually supportive human communities. Maintaining social life, in all of its ugliness and beauty, is the
primary goal of these 'people's economies'. This aim, at its core, is fundamentally opposed to the dominant
capitalist logic that places accumulation, growth-for-growth's sake (a key characteristic, incidentally, of
cancer), at the center of economic life.
Many of these non-capitalist micro-economies are familiar to us, though rarely acknowledged as legitimate
economies. While it is crucial to note that not all of these non-capitalist economies are necessarily
liberatory, I will highlight here some of the most positive and inspiring forms:
Householding economies — meeting basic needs with our own skills and work at home and on or with
the land: raising children, offering advice or comfort, resolving relational conflicts, teaching basic life
skills (such as how to talk!), cooking, sewing, cleaning the house, building the house, balancing the
checkbook, fixing the car, gardening, farming, raising animals. Many types of work that have often been
rendered invisible or devalued by patriarchy as 'women's work'.
Barter economies — trading services with our friends or neighbors, swapping one useful thing for
another: 'Returning a favor', exchanging plants or seeds, time-based local currencies.
Collective economies — in their simple form these economies are about pooling our resources together
(sharing): bringing food to a potluck supper, carpooling, lending and borrowing, consumer co-ops; in their
most 'radical' form, collective economies are based on common ownership and/or control of resources:
collective communities, health care collectives, community land trusts, and more.
Scavenging economies — living on the abundance of Earth's own gift economy: hunting, fishing, and
foraging. Also living on the abundance of human wastefulness— 'one person's trash is another one’s
treasure': salvaging from demolition sites, using old car parts, dumpster-diving...
Gift economies — giving some of our resources to other people and to our communities: volunteer fire
companies, community food banks, giving rides to hitch-hikers, having neighbors over for dinner.
Worker-controlled economies — workers deciding the terms and conditions of their own work: self-
employment, family farms, worker-owned companies and cooperatives.
'Pirate' economies — various activities that might be labeled 'theft' by those in power, but would be
called 'rightful re-appropriation' by those who have been robbed of power: re-incarnations of Robin Hood
or Pretty Boy Floyd, squatters.
Subsistence market economies — thousands of very small businesses survive (and sometimes thrive)
with little or no imperative to grow and accumulate wealth. These are subsistence-based businesses,
created and run for the purpose of providing healthy livelihood to the owners (who are often the workers)
and providing a basic service to the larger community (sometimes in the indirect form of creating a
community gathering space).
These categories name only some of the many diverse, non-capitalist economic relationships that are
interwoven throughout our lives. The project of identifying these relationships is a project of hope, one
that allows us to begin de-colonizing ourselves from the devaluing and degrading ways-of-seeing that
have been imposed on us by the Economics of Empire. We can begin to see, instead, the powerful spaces
of freedom that already exist in our midst.
In the context of uncovering the diversity of our economic relationships, we can begin to re-frame our
understanding of capitalism itself. Instead of viewing capitalism as The Economy, we can view it instead
as an ongoing project to colonize economic space. Capitalism, with its drive for accumulation and hence
its need for endless expansion into 'new markets', would like to become The Economy. Fortunately for us,
the capitalists have not succeeded in turning every relationship into an opportunity to make profit.
Capitalism is an ongoing, but never fully successful, project of colonization.
In fact, the dominant economy would fall apart if the people's economy — these basic forms of cooperation
and solidarity — did not exist 'below the surface'. These are the things that keep us alive when the
factories close down, when the ice storm comes, when our houses burn down, or when the paycheck is
just not enough. These are, indeed, the relationships that hold the very fabric of our society together,
the relationships that make us human and that meet our most basic needs of love, care, and mutual
apoyo. It sure isn't capitalism that's providing these things for us!
Solidarity Economics begins here, with the realization that alternative economies already exist; that we
as creative and skilled people have already created different kinds of economic relationships in the very
belly of the capitalist system. We have our own forms of wealth and value that are not defined by money.
Instead of prioritizing competition and profit-making, these economies place human needs and relationships
at the center. They are the already-planted seeds of a new economy, an economy of cooperation,
equality, diversity, and self-determination: a 'solidarity economy'.
Though the capitalist economy has devalued or hidden these seeds from us, we can use them as starting
points for our alternative economic organizing. The project of solidarity economics is to water these
seeds — to identify and expand the spaces of solidarity that already exist and, in the process, create
new and larger ones.
Solidarity is a powerful word that names the dynamic, collective process of taking active responsibility for
our inter-relationships on both a local and global level. When we practice solidarity, we recognize that our
fates are bound up with the fates of others, both human and non-human; that our interconnections —
sometimes profoundly unequal and oppressive — demand conscious action and transformation. A través de
solidarity, we recognize the diversity, autonomy, power, and dignity of others. We come to understand
that our struggles to be free and joyful are not as separate or distant from one another as we may have
pensamiento. We begin to develop an ethical practice of shared struggle.
I often hear people commenting that 'it is easy to be against things; much harder to be for positive
alternatives.' If we believe the dominant story about 'the economy' or fall for the trap of having to name
'the' alternative or describe 'the' new economic system in technical detail, then this observation may be
cierto. With another story in hand, however, we can see that the seeds of alternative worlds are already
planted — even growing — below the surface of the capitalist economy. Our burden is not to develop a
new abstract blueprint or scheme that we must then convince (or force) everyone to follow; it is rather
to identify the spaces of hope and creation that surround us, name them, celebrate them, organize to
strengthen and connect them, and in so doing create new possibilities and relationships.
The creative projects that can emerge from this way of seeing must be, of course, connected to many
other kinds of transformative work. Just as it is not enough to be 'against', it is also not enough to create.
We must build social movements that encompass and connect many forms of action: defensive action to
protect ourselves and our communities from immediate harm; offensive action to challenge the current
structures of oppression and exploitation in all of their racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, and otherwise
exclusionary forms; healing action to work through and recover from the pain and brokenness that has
been imposed upon us in so many ways; and creative action to build alternative structures that meet our
daily needs and help us secede from the oppressions of the dominant society and economy.
To conclude, then: We are all 'solidarity economists'. Together, we can take back our economies from
those who have stolen them. The word 'economics' comes from the Greek oikos (home) nomos (rules/
management). The management of the home. Whose home? Our home! Whose management? Collective
self-management! Together, we can reclaim our homes as spaces of safety, care, love, healing, growth,
I believe in the Big Circle, where people's small and big, non-material and tangible gifts circulate… Those
who want to step into this circle – need to learn to give gracefully and to accept gratefully (no less
important), and to give and to take – to keep this n-kilometers chain going and moving around. Hay
one important term: to give from the heart, or else – step out, for it won't work. I don't believe in altruism,
but in giving and sharing, thus multiplying. Those who are generous know this secret: it returns back, and
this is good and rewarding. Isn't that a win-win-win?
The difference between market economy and gift economy, is that the latter emerges naturally, without
esfuerzo. Also natural is the rule that without vacuum or space in life, one can't accept anything new… so,
without giving, there is no space for the new.
In the Russian Empire there used to be merchants who helped artists in financial need, and said there was
no need to return money back to him directly. However, if God granted a chance, the merchant would ask
the artist to support others who would need help. Thus, the ten-rouble banknote traveled around, helping
people who needed it the most. When I was a kid in the 'pioneer camps' (in the ex-Soviet Union), we
played a game in the team of teens: Angel the Keeper. For some period of time someone chooses another
person to be Angel the Keeper for him/her, without him/her knowing who this person is. And during a week
or even longer, the Angel sends small gifts, postcards with warm words, and cares by giving without
expecting a 'thank you' from the other side. These were not big gifts, but important ones that taught us
gestures of genuine caring and giving. It was important that the Angels were cared for by other Angels…
and there was the Big Circle embracing us all.
(Interviewed taken and edited by Beverly Bell, Other Worlds Are Possible,
February 2005, Bamako, Mali)
A word that we use a lot in Bamana [one of the languages of West Africa] is maaya . When you say that
somebody has maaya , you mean they are human, they have some humanity. To be human for us is to be
able to give, is to be able to recognize each other as human beings. That concept also incorporates the
idea that our humanity is one. I am human because we are all human. There is a link. There is a song
that says that what makes us human is a thread that we all pull on. It is in the link that we have with
other people that we measure our humanity. Each of us has to make sure that it doesn't break in your
nombre. Instead, what builds those links is what we give.
We can call the gift economy dama . Dama is about giving, passing the gift on, moving it forward. En este caso,
we judge people by how much they give. Even if the person doesn't have much, someone will say, “That
is a good person, an extraordinary person.” In other countries, the measure is that the person has a lot,
not gives a lot. But for us, if you have a lot and you don't give it, what is it good for?
In all the places I have been in West Africa, I have seen this gift economy at work. I have seen it most
with people and places that are less in touch with the global model. I have seen people considered poor
give much more than people who have much more, and they do it with ease.
Who you are is very much defined by what you do in relationship with other people. It's how much you
give to others. And when you say give, that means everything. We give objects, but they are only
símbolos. They are just to materialize the links. The highest gift is recognizing people, giving consideration
for who they are, and accepting to be linked to them.
The gift economy is a way of life, practiced here by very ordinary and very regular people everyday. Es
based on the recognition that there is another way of relating to each other. If you go into any family
here in Mali, you would find that most of the time, one person works and feeds twenty people. Si hay
was not a working gift economy moving, we would have a lot of people dead on the streets through
hunger. It is not like we have governmental systems to take care of people. It is not like we have a high
rate of employment, or like everyone has some money. There is nothing. So if you interviewed any
number of persons and ask them how they live, what they eat, where they get what they wear, you
would easily notice that most of it has been given by someone.
You don't give based on what you have. The idea of giving is that someone has something that they are
willing to part with, and it could be for different reasons. It could be just to maintain relations. Like when
I travel I get small gifts, and when I come back I give them to people. Or I could be thinking of someone,
and I could cook some food and send it to them. And then there is the relationship with people who are
younger to me. They don't ask, but it is one of our tasks. Because they are younger: I have clothes, I
give it to them. I have money, I give it to them.
You would never give something that you don't want yourself. What is a gift if you yourself don't want it?
The idea of giving old clothes that you wouldn't wear anymore, what kind of giving is that? Usted tiene que
be able to give things that you want, things that you need, or things that you would want someone to
When you don't give is when people really start worrying about you, when people start wondering about
what kind of person you have become. Being rich here means that the person has lost the value, that
there is something wrong with him or her, that he or she is not giving enough to the needs around. Si
anyone here lived in a big house by himself, people would wonder what was wrong with him or her, too.
Mothers would send their sons and daughters to go live with him, because they would feel sorry that he
Gifting is practiced to a point that some people see it as an impediment to development. For someone
like me, if there were not this practice of giving, I would be rich. I would be able — at least for the little
money that I make — to invest in something and grow money. But the only way you get to be rich is by
disassociating yourself from other people because you cannot live in community, have family in the way
that we understand family, and still be rich.
Just one example of gift-giving is remittances sent home by emigrants. The amount of money that they
send back home is incredible. People can wonder sometimes: what is wrong with these people? Ellos
work so much, they are so tired, they get so little. And they send this money to cousins, to nieces —
people you feel are not even close family?!? But the model that they know of is the gift economy. Es
something that is rooted, that is so strong, among many people, and it is difficult to take away.
One of our beliefs is what we do always comes back to us. Everything you do makes you who you are.
It's exciting to me that there are so many people who live by these values, there are so many people who
are working to make a difference. Maybe I'm just very lucky, but for the time of living that I have had, I
have met some pretty incredible people. Part of my thinking is that, if I know so many, there are so many
more that I don't know. It's a very big source of hope and joy and of imagination, what will come out of
all of this.
In the face of the various challenges and insecurities thrown up by the spread of globalization, we have
to find ways of maintaining a way of thinking that you take care of other people, and trust that you will
be taken care of. A way of thinking that who you are is important and is recognized by others, and that
other people will look out for your needs. That frees you, makes you very free to take care of other
people and their needs. You don't spend as much time protecting yourself and taking care of yourself.
It's a dangerous way of living, now. But it's a beautiful way of living.
We believe that each human being has a rhythm inside them that defines who he or she is. Creemos que
that when people go crazy, it's because the rhythm is off. That's why in traditional healing practices for
people who have become mentally sick, we use drums and music, to find that rhythm that was lost and
help the person to get it back. Our cultural work comes from those old beliefs that there is always a way
in which you can touch people, there is always a doorway to people —as closed as they might look or as
damaged as they might be. It could be through words, through images, through music, through movement.
You have to find it.
Check out the film on the Malian gift economy -
In that wonderful story, “The Book of Mirdad”,
Mirdad says, “More possessions, more possessed”.
We think that we own so many things, but actually it is the other way around: it
is these things which dictate terms to us. We are their slaves, so they own us.
When we make a list of our possessions such as shares, FDs, homes, cars, etc.,
we give this list the heading, 'Assets'. Instead, we should be listing them under
the heading, 'Sources of Problems and Worries'!
Kabir has a beautiful poem extolling the virtues of such an attitude. Essentially,
he says, Nothing in this wide world belongs to us, or can ever belong to us. Por
trying to make them ours, we are only adding to our problems, increasing our
miseries. Everything we see around has been created by a single Creator and
belongs to Him. The only one whom we can call our own and therefore own is
the Creator, and if only we can do that, everything in the creation will
automatically become ours, for He literally owns everything. Then, we can enjoy
everything in this world, without worrying about the problems associated with
- TS Ananthu, India,
REGENERATING TEQUIO IN
In 2006, the state of Oaxaca in southeastern Mexico gave birth to an unprecedented social movement
that mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in a sustained five-month effort to oust a corrupt
gobierno. What made this profound, horizontal, decentralized and spontaneous popular uprising possible
were the interrelated institutions of reciprocidad (reciprocity), apoyo mutuo (mutual support), and
tequio (voluntary collective work for the common good) that still prevail in the city, despite years of
ruthless modernization campaigns led by state governments and private interests. These ancient traditions
have been inherited from the indigenous cultures of southeastern Mexico and the broader Mesoamerica.
For many people, the main success of the popular uprising was the collective realization—through a deep,
shared experience of crisis—that the common good does not depend on the government, the state, the
police, or even the money that has overwhelmed most social interactions; but rather, on the vigor,
breadth, intensity, and overall health of interpersonal relationships. In Oaxaca, this communal spirit has
been called comunalidad (communality), and it primarily rests on the deep awareness that my personal
well-being depends on your personal well-being, and that it is the generosity of selfless giving, hospitality,
and a radically pluralist attitude toward the other that allows our communities to survive, subsist, and
But surely, one may say, not everyone participated in the seemingly chaotic and violent uprising we saw
on TV! How did other people experience the turmoil?
El Diamante neighborhood in the valley of Etla, Oaxaca seems like a typical spontaneous urban outgrowth
in the periphery of any growing city. It is gray, dusty, and completely treeless, giving it the eerie sheen
of a desert settlement in what used to be, not so long ago, a lush river valley. Its settlers are a very
diverse group of people. Most of them are first or second generation urbanites who have only recently
migrated to the city from the countryside. They represent the different language groups and cultures
that make Oaxaca the single-most culturally diverse state in all of Mexico. Today, they cannot help but
feel frustrated, even betrayed. For years, they were taught to desire the many goods, services, and
cultural norms of modern (Euro-American) life. They were slowly convinced that these were in fact
human needs that they should strive to satisfy for themselves and their children. The figures of political
and moral authority—government officials, religious leaders, international aid workers, and Marxist rebels—
ultimately made sure that they perceived these new (Euro-American) needs as rights , to which each one
of them, like every other Mexican citizen, and indeed every human being, was entitled. Cuando se
migrated to the city of Oaxaca with their families, hoping for brighter futures filled with modern prosperity,
they were met with enormous barriers, erected by the same institutions that had seduced them in the
Upon this scenario, the people of el Diamante have resolved to embrace what they called the 'necessary
evil' of self-organizing; of providing the conditions for living with dignity and health in a hostile environment,
and of creating the kind of community to which they aspire, themselves. Thus, in the past decade they
have been able to conquer from the state the property deeds for their small plots of land and get
electricity for their neighborhood, among other small victories.
The people of el Diamante did not actively participate, as such, in the social movement of 2006. De hecho,
two of the neighbors are police officers, and two others are active militants of the ruling party. Otros
include housewives, single mothers, former campesinos (small farmers), teachers, state bureaucrats,
small business owners, and truck drivers. The great diversity of the neighbors does not only lie in their
regional, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, but also on their occupations, professions, and political
inclinations. And yet, el Diamante is an emblematic example of the same spirit that drove the great social
movement of 2006. ¿Cómo?
What has made it possible for el Diamante to survive as a settlement and forge itself into a community is
not a common ideology or a set of shared interests. Rather, it is personal relationships based on
interdependence, trust, and reciprocity in the midst of a hostile reality, despite ideological, economic,
social, and cultural differences. The neighbors keenly understand that their self-interest is not separate,
or even different from the collective interest. And so daily life is peppered with experiences that unify
this unlikely community, such as annual fiestas , weekly evening prayers, birthday parties, and first
communions; not to mention the monthly asambleas (assemblies) in which the entire population, including
the children, discuss the problems they need to solve and the dreams they want to turn into reality. Pero
perhaps the most invigorating instance through which they come together is through the voluntary
gifting of their work and their time, also known as tequio . Whether to clean up the road or dig trenches to
drain rainwater during the heaviest part of the rainy season; to embellish a street or a household for a
christening or wedding party; or to plant a garden or a milpa (a traditional corn field), tequio is the work
that is offered gratis for the sake of the collective good. Rural communities in Oaxaca are founded on
this institution, and city neighborhoods could not possibly do without it, either. People understand that
most of a community's needs and aspirations can be met with moderate means; that all that is really
required is the collective will to pull together resources, time, and work, in order to make them a reality.
In the five years that I have lived in this city, I often marvel at the fact that most of what I and all of my
compañeros , friends, colleagues, and acquaintances do as 'work' is rarely remunerated. How, then, do
we possibly make a living? And why on earth do we carry on with so many unpaid hare-brained ideas,
projects, and initiatives? Well, it didn't take me long to realize that tequio is alive and well in this growing
tourist gem of a city, even when it is not called so by name. Oaxaca bustles with cultural vitality: the
graphic and street arts, the cultural centers, public libraries, music and photography houses, the free
movie theaters, the neighborhood produce and crafts markets, the rich gastronomic tradition and the
many modern neighborhood restaurants that complement it, the community media centers that produce
radio, video and film of all genres, the book and arts fairs, and the thriving indigenous cultures that have
survived centuries of oppression and manifest themselves in all aspects of daily life; all make this an
extraordinarily unique and vibrant city. I came to realize that none of this would be possible if it weren't
for the generalized practice of freely and generously gifting one's time, energy, creativity, patience, and
labor not only to one's own enterprises, but to other people's as well. ¿Por qué? Among the most practical
reasons: because others also do so when it is I who needs the extra hands, minds, and hearts but cannot
afford to pay them. More deeply, however, we give because it is rewarding in itself; because it brings us
closer together without money as intermediary, and because it affords us the privilege of learning new
abilities, new trades, and new ways of seeing the world in a communal spirit of sharing. Of course, we
also do it because it can be very gratifying, rewarding, and lots of fun, if approached with the right
Today, nearing the end of 2008, the neighbors of el Diamante are speaking more frankly about their
abundance, their strengths and their virtues, and less about their weaknesses, their needs, and their
diferencias. They are less reluctant to assert their rural backgrounds, and prouder of their cultural
heritage and communal spirit. They are investing less energy in denouncing the government and the
state bureaucracy, and investing much more energy in building the community that they desire. Thus, to
paraphrase Paul Goodman, when they run up against obstacles that won't let them live that way, they
are coming up with creative ways to overcome them, and their politics are more concrete and practical.
What they used to call the 'necessary evil' of doing without state or corporate assistance, they now call
'the necessary good' of practicing tequio , reciprocity and communality in an urban setting. Son
frankly questioning the worthiness of the Development Project—of importing others' notions of what it is
to live well—and asserting their own idea of the good life.
Dheere dheere mana, dheere sab kuch hoye
Mali seenche sau ghada, ritu aye phal hoye
Everything happens slowly, oh my heart
The gardener waters a hundred pots but the fruit comes at its own time
I was at my friend Kavita's place when I met Apurwa. We began talking of farming, as I was showing some
pictures of my time spent on the organic farms in Zimbabwe. Apurwa asked where she could get organic
food in Jaipur. I said that there is G ou Seva Sangh which provides some organic food, but if you want
more, then one answer is to grow it yourself. “I have tried, but never succeeded,” she said. I offered to
help her set up a roof-top kitchen garden.
I shared the idea with another friend, Anupamaji, and she came the next day to Apurwa's place to help
prepare the kitchen garden. Earlier, I had collected some old bus battery containers, which I had not yet
found a use for. . When I went to her house, I carried them with me..
I reached Apurwa's place along with Anumpamaji, and the three of us cooked lunch. We talked about the
idea of 'conscious kitchen', as we made oil-free food.
Lately, I have been visiting some organic farms and reading about farming. I am realizing that in organic
farming, or we can say 'good farming', the most important thing is to build good soil. One ideal is the soil
of the forest where trees grow without any artificial fertilizers and pesticides. They bear plenty of fruit,
and generally, no disease attacks them en masse . The idea is to make a rich soil with lots of humus,
which can hold moisture like a sponge and, at the same time, give nutrients to the plant.
We went to the subzi mandi (vegetable market) to get green waste, and I also combed the streets to
pick up dried leaves from under the trees. All this organic matter would make a good soil. Streetsweepers
had already left piles of leaves to be picked up by the garbage trucks, so half the work was already done
Apurwa had given me some money to buy materials for the kitchen garden, but because I could pick up so
much 'waste', I didn't spend much. I would say that making an organic kitchen garden is a way of 'no
money' farming. We just had to buy some seeds, and that too, if one is farming regularly is a one time
expense, since seed can be saved from the plants at the end of their growing season. There is hardly any
money involved in organic farming, which may be why governments or corporations are so reluctant to
talk about it.
Raju, who comes to help Apurwa take care of the garden, was excited about the whole thing. También
works as a gardener in a nearby municipal park where they had once made vermi-compost. He had seen
that garbage can be used to make manure. His level of excitement assured me that he would take care of
the garden once I left.
Apurwa said that we could do whatever we want on her roof-top and ground property. I had seen RT
Doshi's roof top garden in Mumbai, where coconuts were growing on trees planted in drums. That was my
I was imagining her roof full of small and big plants in pots, and Apurwa walking through this 'field' one
day, just as if she was on a farm. I showed her some pictures of organic farms on the Internet, and she
was even more excited about her roof-top garden.
Apurwa had been doing Vipassana meditation for some time and had a fair understanding of what the
Buddha taught. She often shared her thoughts on meditation and interesting stories from the life of the
Buddha. I was at a time in my life where I needed to hear her stories. It was a great gift for me.
Some time ago, when I was in Jaipur at my father's house, I was making a kitchen garden. Mi padre
didn't appreciate it much, so we had to get rid of it. But now there was a great opportunity for me to
experiment with making a garden. In the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael
Braungart, they say that “a house should be like a tree and a city like a forest.” I have always dreamed
of sustainable city house. I felt glad to have the opportunity to try to make one.
The next day, when we were to leave, Anupamaji felt uneasy about going because she felt that while we
were working, Apurwa was not with us. I let her know that that it was her choice. But Apurwa had told
me beforehand that she wouldn't be able to help much right now. Also, she felts that she doesn't have
green fingers, so this time she wanted to be away from the farming process, as some kind of a superstition.
That made Anupamaji feel more relaxed about the things.
Actually, Anupamaji's thought was coming more from the concern that after we set up the garden, it
might not be taken care of. But Raju's excitement in the process assured me that it would be taken care
de. I felt that Apurwa too was interested, and I believed that she would find ways of making it thrive and
I felt good that I was making a gift of an organic kitchen garden, and one day, it would give fresh healthy
veggies. I also thought that so many times people have given us so many gifts which we have not
returned, so isn't it nice to give things to people without any expectation? But as always, in this case
too, I was also getting so much…. a place to do the experiments on organic farming that I had only read
acerca. We made no-till beds, did mulching using cardboard sheets, and used old mineral water bottles as
a drip irrigation system to water the plants.
Working without expectations is the karmayoga of Gita, where nishkama karma (selfless action) is done
without any expectation or attachment to the fruit. The pleasure of doing the act is itself the fruit.
Vinoba Bhaveji says in the book Talks on Gita that for a farmer who is a true karmayogi , the act of
farming is itself the fruit ( sadhaya ). The produce from the farm is the means ( sadhan ) to create an
opportunity to practice karmayoga .
From Apurwa, I got an opportunity to be introduced to the idea of Vipassana in a better way, and I am
attracted to participating in a course myself. I was going through a difficult time in my own family, and I
shared my story with her. Her thoughts on it were very healing and made me see things in a different way.
Besides that, a home opened up for me in Jaipur. I felt that I had become a part of a family. We would do
healthy cooking, and I got the kind of food that I am used to eating – which at times had not been
possible without my own place to cook. Apurwa is always excited about cooking, and she made Shukto ,
a Bengali mix vegetable dish using poppy seed paste. She also made bitter gourd with sesame seed gravy.
I learnt these and many more amazing recipes. I shared the recipe of Zimbabwean steamed pumpkin
porridge made with peanut butter. Apurwa suggested that we add some cardamoms, and the moment we
did that the dish moved towards Shrikhand (yoghurt pudding). I 'discovered' a vegan Shrikhand, as we
collaborated in our cooking.
One day, Apurwa suggested that we remove part of the lawn and plant veggies there. I had just been
reading about the group, Food Not Lawns, so it was like all my wishes were slowly coming true.
Another day, I talked to Apurwa about the idea of making paintings on the wall, and that we could invite
some friends to join us. She was so excited that she began clapping her hands. I invited friends from
Pravah (a group working on social justice with fun and celebration as an underlying principle). Vivek, Neha
and Meenakshi came from there. My young friends Chia and Abhi came, along with my artist friend Shiv.
We made organic colours with stuff like turmeric and coal dust, mixed them with tree gum and painted the
As some of them were painting, Meenakshi came with me to collect garbage. They were also excited
about the garden, and Meenakshi talked about setting up her mother's garden. We talked more about it,
and now we are planning to have a kitchen gardening workshop with the youth from Pravah . En el
months of May and June, we plan to move around the city with a team of volunteers and help our friends
set up kitchen gardens.
That day, I also cooked lunch with Abhi (age 8) and Chia (age 6). It was nice to cook with them. Ellos
almost made the whole lunch, and we enjoyed eating it together. It was an opportunity to deepen my
friendship with them. We had great conversations. Chia was excited about the cooking, and she bravely
cut the onions with tears flowing from her eyes and also washed all the utensils. They generally don't
participate in the cooking at home. In tribal societies that I have been with, I saw that the kids do work
with the adults. That's the way they learn farming or to build houses. Learning and living is not separate
allí. Maybe if we saw city kids in this way, they would be better able to take care of themselves and
I was also happy about one very interesting thing that happened in the process of cooking together. Chia
always used to call me 'Shammi uncle', but after hearing Abhi call me just 'Shammi', and by spending time
together cooking, painting and gardening, she dropped the 'uncle'. We were friends.
I had never thought that a conversation around organic farming could open up a new world for me in such
a spontaneous way. Making a small gift gave me so
much in return. In the 'giftculture', just like in
agriculture, the gifts come in many unexpected ways
from unexpected places and people.
In this case, the most beautiful gift was building a
friendship with Apurwa. While we did the farming,
collected waste, picked up cow-dung, made beds,
planted seeds, cooked together, made salads and
talked of Vipassana . I realized that building a good
relationship is like building good soil. It takes time
and care, and the 'harvest' is there all the time. Sólo
as in farming, where one is always receiving from
feeling the soil under foot and the sweats of good
el trabajo. The fruit is not merely the produce, but is
being harvested all the time.
“I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of
brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love
of people which we love is a fire that feeds our life.
But to feel the affection that comes from those whom
we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are
watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers
and our weaknesses — that is something still greater
and more beautiful because it widens out the
boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.
That exchange brought home to me the first time a
precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together...”
- Pablo Neruda
quoted in Lewis Hyde, The Gift, 1975
ORNUCOPIA OF THE
A few years ago, the newspapers of New York City were ablaze with a controversy aboust dozens of
plots of derelict land that had been slowly turned into urban oases. Should these beautiful community
gardens that neighborhoods had created on trash-filled lots be allowed to stay in the public domain? O
should the mayor and city government, heeding the call of developers, try to generate new tax revenues
on the reclaimed sites by selling them to private investors?
The community gardens emerged in a realm that the market had written off as worthless. A lo largo de la
1970s and 1980s, the New York City real estate market had abandoned hundreds of buildings and city lots
as unprofitable. Investors stopped paying taxes on the sites, and the City became the legal owner of
some 11,000 nontaxable vacant lots. Many became rubble-strewn magnets for trash, junked cars, drug
dealing, and prostitution, with predictable effects on neighborhoods.
Distressed at this deterioration, a group of self-styled 'green guerillas' began to assert control over the
sitios. “We cut fences open with wire cutters and took sledgehammers to sidewalks to plant trees,” said
Tom Fox, an early activist. Soon, the City of New York began formally to allow residents to use the sites
as community gardens, with the understanding that the property might eventually be sold.
In the Lower East Side and Harlem, Coney Island and Brooklyn, neighborhoods came together to clean up
the discarded tires and trash, and plant dogwood trees and vegetable gardens. Over time, hundreds of
cool, green oases in the asphalt cityscape emerged — places that helped local communities see themselves
as communities. Families would gather in some gardens for baptisms, birthday parties, and weddings.
Other gardens were sites of poetry readings and performances, mentoring programs and organic gardening
Over 800 community gardens sprang up throughout the five boroughs, and with them, an economic and
social revival of the neighborhoods. “Ten years ago, this community had gone to ashes,” said community
advocate Astin Jacobo. “But now there is a return to green. We're emerging. We're seeing things return
to the way it should be!”
Perhaps most importantly, the gardens gave neighborhood residents a chance to govern a segment of
sus vidas. A city bureaucracy was not needed to 'administer' the sites; self-selected neighborhood
groups shouldered the burden, and the sites became organic expressions and possessions of their
By the 1990s, greenery and social vitality were boosting the rents of storefronts and apartments, which,
ironically, alerted the city to the growing economic value of the sites. In 1997, Mayor Giuliani proposed
auctioning 115 of the gardens to raise $3.5 to $10 million. For the mayor, the sites were vacant lots:
underutilized sources of tax revenue that should be sold to private investors.
“These properties should go for some useful purpose, rather than lying fallow,” said a city official, in
support of the mayor. The mayor's plan ignited an uproar, as hundreds of citizens demonstrated — some
through civil disobedience — in numerous attempts to save the gardens. Determined to eke maximum
revenue from the sites, the city rejected an offer by the Trust for Public Land to buy 112 garden lots for
$2 million. Then, one day before a planned auction of the sites in May 1999, actress Bette Midler donated
$1 million to help the TPL and other organizations consummate a purchase of the lots for $3 million.
The gift economy
How you interpret the story of New York City's community gardens depends a great deal upon the
narrative you choose. Under the narrative favored by Mayor Giuliani, the sale of the garden sites is a
case of using the market to maximize wealth and exploit underutilized resources more efficiently: an
open-and-shut case of neoclassical economics. But to a large segment of the city's residents, the
community gardens exemplify the power of the gift economy.
New York City's community gardens are robust precisely because they are not governed by either the
market or government. Unlike the market, which revolves around trade and money, or government, which
is based on law and police powers, the gift economy is driven by people voluntarily coming together.
Eventually that process can create a commons.
No one paid or forced thousands of New Yorkers — not a famously altruistic group — to clean up the
abandoned lots and create lively, attractive urban gardens. They chose to do so. It was in their 'self-
interest,' but not in the rational, calculating sense meant by most market theorists. While the community
gardens have economic value, as Mayor Giuliani keenly recognized, that is not the primary meaning of the
resource to its creators. Members of a gift economy prize particular individuals, places, and shared
experiences; they value such nonmonetary benefits as the after-school gardening program for junior high
school children that Janus Barton started at the Bushwick garden across the street from a brothel and
crack house, and the greenhouse in a Harlem garden where unemployed women learned how to can
tomatoes and dry flowers and herbs as part of a small business.
The power of a gift economy is difficult for the empiricists of our market culture to understand. Somos
accustomed to assigning value to things we can measure — corporate bottom lines, Nielsen ratings,
cost-benefit analyses. We have trouble valuing intangibles that are not traded in the market and which
therefore have no price. How is something of value created by giving away one's time, commitment, and
property? Traditional economic theory and property law cannot explain how a social matrix as intangible
and seemingly ephemeral as gift economies can be so powerful.
Yet the effects are hard to deny. Gift economies are potent systems for eliciting and developing behaviors
that the market cannot — sharing, collaboration, honor, trust, sociability, loyalty. In this capacity, gift
economies are an important force in creating wealth, both the material kind prized by the market and the
social and spiritual kind needed by any happy, integrated human being.
The vitality of gift exchange, writes Lewis Hyde, one of the most eloquent students of the subject,
comes from the passage of a gift through one person to another and yet another. As a circle of gift
exchange increases in size, an increase in value materializes.
As Hyde puts it: “Scarcity and abundance have as much to do with the form of exchange as with how
much material wealth is at hand. Scarcity appears when wealth cannot flow. ... Wealth ceases to move
freely when all things are counted and priced. It may accumulate in great heaps, but fewer and fewer
people can afford to enjoy it. ... Under the assumptions of exchange trade, property is plagued by
entropy, and wealth can become scarce even as it increases.”
When anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski studied the Trobriand Islanders in the western Pacific, he was
stunned to discover that ritual gifts such as shell necklaces made a steady progression around an
archipelago of islands over the course of 10 years. People 'owned' the cherished gift object for a year or
two, but were socially obliged to pass it on. This is the same sentiment that apprentices feel after leaving
their masters — an obligation to honor the gift that was freely given to them by passing it along to
deserving successors. Several fairy tales — as well as a biblical parable — warn that a gift that is hoarded
loses its generative powers, withers, and dies.
What's remarkable about gift economies is that they can flourish in the most unlikely places — in rundown
neighborhoods, on the Internet, in scientific communities, in blood donation systems, in drug and alcohol
The hacker economy
In the early days of computing, a great deal of software was developed through a gift economy in
university settings. Hackers shared; that was the sacred ethic. As cerebral fanatics who followed their
passions to create the most ingenious software, hackers took pleasure in creating cool things for one
The social and ethical norms of the hacker community at this early stage of the computer revolution were
strikingly similar to those of the scientific method or Jeffersonian democracy. All procedures and outcomes
were subject to the scrutiny of all. Openness allowed error to be more rapidly identified and corrected.
Openness also built in accountability to the process of change and allowed innovation and improvement
to be more readily embraced.
The commercialization of computing in the 1970s and 1980s introduced a very different dynamic to
software development. As software programming moved from universities to the marketplace, a closed,
proprietary process arose.
Yet lurking in the shadow of this mighty new industry, the free software movement has quietly persisted
and grown, exemplifying the stubborn vitality of the gift economy. Empowered by the Internet, a global
corps of computer aficionados arose to develop, improve, and freely share software. This process has
generated hundreds of top-quality software programs, many of which have become critical operating
components of the Internet.
What most distinguishes free software from off-the-shelf proprietary software is the openness of the
source code, and thus the user's freedom to use and distribute the software in whatever ways desired.
Anyone with the expertise can 'look under the hood' of the software and modify the engine, change the
carburetor or install turbochargers. Inelegant designs can be changed, and bugs can be fixed. Vendedores
cannot coerce users into buying 'bloatware' (overblown, inefficient packages with gratuitous features),
Windows-compatible applications, or gratuitous upgrades made necessary by planned obsolescence.
Free software also allows its users to avoid the constant upgrades in computer hardware.
This is where Richard Stallman, an MIT programming legend, entered the scene. Stallman realized that
anyone could make minor changes in a free software program and then copyright it. Without some new
legal vehicle, the benefits of free software could be privatized and withheld from the community of users.
The commons would collapse.
Stallman's brilliant innovation was the General Public License (GPL), sometimes known as 'copyleft,' which
is essentially a form of copyright protection achieved through contract law. “To copyleft a program,”
writes Stallman, “first we copyright it; then we add distribution terms, which are a legal instrument that
gives everyone the rights to use, modify, and redistribute the program's code or any program derived
from it, but only if the distribution terms are unchanged.” The GPL creates a commons in software
development “to which anyone may add, but from which no one may subtract.”
“Users of GPL'd code know that future improvements and repairs will be accessible from the commons,
and need not fear either the disappearance of their supplier or that someone will use a particularly
attractive improvement or a desperately needed repair as leverage for 'taking the program private,”
writes attorney Eben Moglen.
The GPL, in short, prevents enclosure of the free software commons and creates a legally protected
space for it to flourish. Because no one can seize the surplus value created within the commons,
programmers are willing to contribute their time and energy to improving it. The commons is protected
and stays protected.
The crowning achievement of the GPL may be the success of the Linux operating system. El programa
was begun as a kernel by Finnish graduate student Linus Torvalds, and within months, a community of
programmers began to improve and extend the Unix-based operating system, incorporating many programs
written by Stallman and friends. Despite having no bureaucratic organization, corporate structure, or
market incentives — only cheap and easy communication via the Internet — tens of thousands of
computer programmers around the globe volunteered their time throughout the 1990s to develop a
remarkably stable and robust operating system. The program, which is considered superior to Microsoft’s
NT server system, now commands a phenomenal 27 percent of the server market. The GPL is the chief
reason that Linux and dozens of other programs have been able to flourish without being privatized.
The gift economy of blood and science
One of the most vivid case studies comparing the performance of market and gift economies is Richard
Titmuss's examination of British and American blood banks in the 1960s. Drawing upon extensive empirical
data, Titmuss concluded that commercial blood systems generally produce blood supplies of less safety,
purity, and potency than volunteer systems; are more hazardous to the health of donors; and over the
long run produce greater shortages of blood.
What can possibly account for these counter-intuitive deviations from market theory, which holds that
the price system produces the most efficient outcomes and highest quality product? Resulta que el
introduction of money into the blood transaction encourages doctors to skirt prescribed safety rules and
tends to attract more drug addicts, alcoholics, prisoners, and derelicts than altruistic appeals do.
According to Titmuss, Britain's National Blood Transfusion Service “has allowed and encouraged sentiments
of altruism, reciprocity, and societal duty to express themselves; to be made explicit and identifiable in
measurable patterns of behavior by all social groups and classes.” In this context, the gift economy
regime is not simply 'nice'. It is actually more efficient, cheaper, and safer.
It is not widely appreciated that much of the power and creativity of scientific inquiry stems from a gift
la economía. While researchers are of course dependent upon grants and other sources of money, historically
their work has not been shaped by market pressures. The organizing principle of scientific research has
been gift-giving relationships with other members of the scholarly community. A scientist's achievements
are measured by recognition in academic societies and journals, and the naming of discoveries. Papeles
submitted to scientific journals are considered 'contributions'. There is a presumption that work will be
openly shared and scrutinized, and that everyone will be free to build on a communal body of scientific
The gift economy is now under siege as never before. As Jennifer Washburn and Exal Press have shown in
their Atlantic Monthly article on the 'kept university', corporate money is introducing new proprietary
controls over the creation and dissemination of knowledge.
Why should anyone want to protect the gift economy of academic research when the market promises to
be more efficient and rational?
The answer, says Warren O. Hagstrom, a sociologist of science, is that a gift economy is a superior
system for maintaining a group's commitment to certain (extra-market) values. In science, it is considered
indispensable that researchers be objective and open-minded in assessing evidence. They must be willing
to publish their results and subject them to open scrutiny. They must respect the collective body of
research upon which everyone depends — by crediting noteworthy predecessors, for example, and not
'polluting' the common knowledge with phony or skewed research. The long-term integrity and creative
power of scientific inquiry depends upon these shared values. Market forces are ill-suited to sustaining
these values, however, because monetary punishment and reward are a problematic tool for nurturing
moral commitment. By contrast, a gift economy is particularly effective in cultivating deep and unswerving
The cornucopia of the commons
Gift exchange is a powerful force in creating and sustaining the commons. It offers a surprisingly effective
means of preserving certain values from the imperialism
of the market and the coercions of the state. Puede ser
tempting to patronize the gift economy as archaic or
'soft', but the evidence is too strong to ignore: gift
exchange is a powerful force for social reconstruction
and a more civilized, competitive market.
It is a mistake, also, to regard the gift economy simply
as a high-minded preserve for altruism. It is, rather, a
different way of pursuing self-interest. In a gift economy,
one's 'self-interest' has a much broader, more humanistic
feel than the utilitarian rationalism of economic theory.
Furthermore, the positive externalities of gift exchanges
can feed on each other and expand.
This points to the folly of talking about 'social capital', as
so many sociologists and political scientists do. Capital is
something that is depleted as it is used. But a gift
economy has an inherently expansionary dynamic, growing
the more that it is used. While it needs material goods to
function, the gift economy's real wealth-generating
capacity derives from a social commerce of the human
Reference: This article was published in the Summer
2001 edition of YES Magazine
“We are all bundles of potential that manifest only in
Thus, when we're in good relationships, based on a generosity
of spirit and not 'what's in it for me' we discover new
potentials and create new potentials together. The narrow
sense of self, where we focus only on our needs, keeps us
and all from realizing new potentials.
So life is all about relationships which then gift us with new
descubrimientos. Being in good relationships is the only way to
release this energy of life, which always wants to move
toward the new and does so with great flair and abundance.”
- Margaret Wheatley, USA
i first got interested in the gift economy stuff through examining the differences between native peoples'
concept of the potlatch and the gita's 'yoga of disinterested action'; what drew me further was this
notion of giving without expectation of receiving, acting without expectation of the 'fruit' of one’s
some elementary research led me to a book called 'the gift', by a french anthropologist, marcel mauss.
the essay presented marcel's examinations of gift economies in so-called primitive societies. the book
made quite a stir when published (1923), mainly i think because of the similarities in the role of the gift in
our cultures and their 'primitive' ones. like having to give a bottle of wine when you go to someone’s
the upshot, of course, was that the role of the gift in these societies was not the role of the gift in the
society we are working to create — it was deeply associated with power, respect, authority, and
posicionamiento. it had very little to do with disinterested action, agape, or total faith in universal abundance.
you bring a bottle of wine (not too cheap, mind you) to some other middle-class house not because you
are excited about the gift or even the wine, but because somebody had once brought a bottle of wine to
your house, and, well, it's just the right and proper thing to do. this is the notion of the gift as status –
either holding steady, or, in the potlatch culture, gaining it.
it's worth noting, and being amazed at, that the native potlatches were based on the principle that they
who bankrupted themselves were the winners. that is, rather than package money and power together
like we do these days, they were commodities to be traded against each other.
truly remarkable. but no kropotkin about it, as far as i could tell.
so, when I somehow arrived at the concept for The Brazilian Solution (which originally came to me in a
dream, the idea that i would run a vegetarian restaurant in a country to which i had never traveled), all
i knew is that i wanted it to be different, beautiful, and the future. i wrote up the ideas in a white paper
that I presented at the 2004 world social forum in mumbai, trying to see if other people had similar ideas,
wanted to come help, or could share their stories. there were none. but the paper is worth reading i
think, if you're interested in these topics. it's short and available on the internets
(www.somethingconstructive.net/brazil) along with updates from the
the restaurant eventually came to be known as O Bigode. we introduced the concept as an 'economy of
the gift' restaurant to the local villagers and fishermen who came by, where the food was served with
love and without charge, and people were free to leave whatever they wanted.
at each meal we served a lunch plate ('prato feito', like a thali equivalent) as well as veggie burgers (with
egg and cheese optional) and empanadas (like samosas, but baked). we also had juice and of course,
as a compromise to local culture, the empanadas had a fixed price. the idea was that people could start
with the empanadas, something they could understand, and get drawn into the space, the conversation,
and then eventually feel comfortable eating the food without reservation. the notion of “going to people
where they're at”. also, the beer you had to pay for. i definitely did not have, and continue to not to
have, faith in the cocktail of moral experiments and alcohol.
every day the restaurant operated — it started as daily and then quickly shifted to weekends based on
slow flow of traffic during the weekday — i would take money from the register to buy groceries from the
market, using whatever was there from the previous day. we put in some cash in the beginning — not
much — and i told myself we would just experiment until the money ran out and then have a little meeting
(three or four of us were working together) to see what next. but the money never ran out. over the
course of the five months the restaurant was open, everybody paid. everybody paid more than i would
have normally charged. everybody loved the food, and, in fact, every one who came once, came again.
even people who were just there for the weekend from the mainland. so that was nice.
and also, for me, a failure. i wanted to serve awesome gourmet love-soaked vegetarian food to the local
villagers we were quickly befriending, have them feel comfortable coming in and eating a plate of food
and walking out leaving nothing but a smile. that was the goal for me. just to enjoy and be with other
people enjoying. and while there was a lot of lip-smacking good times, everybody always paid, and
nobody came in who felt they couldn't pay. of course, you know, a lot of these barriers were cultural. nosotros
didn't speak very good portuguese at first, and it's hard to communicate the idea of a vegetarian
restaurant, much less a 'post-capitalist' one.
which is another term we had for ourselves, and one i like even now. so i was very excited when i came
to ahmedabad, about a year after leaving the Bigode in march of 2005, and met Manav Sadhna and their
Seva Cafe. the Seva Cafe is in a beautiful space, a permanent space (they bought it), incredible,
professional design, and a perfect location.
our design was wonderful — though a different aesthetic — and all hand-crafted and hand-painted by
artisan friends from argentina and france. but the Seva Cafe was a whole new level for me. it's a lot more
professional in many respects. and it's just excrutiatingly beautiful. and it's been around for years. hay
are a handful of people who work there full-time and sustain themselves from it, which is quite different
then our experiment. one might even say: successful.
and it's so very Indian, based on this principle of 'the guest is god' which is at once so humbling and
overbearing in Indian culture. we were cavalier about the whole post-capitalist thing, but at the Seva
Cafe, they sit down with you and give you a serious speech about the goodness in people's hearts and
service and how you should consider this your home and all of that. it's really very Indian, with all the
weight and beauty being part of a multi-thousand culture entails.
in terms of the gift economy, they give you an envelope to make your donation at the end of your meal,
which is a pretty direct indication that you're expected to contribute something, the amount being up to
que. we also gave people the ticket from the meal so they knew what they had ordered, and used that as
another opportunity to clarify the concept — they didn't have to give anything, but if they wanted to,
they could give whatever they wanted. i think at the Seva Cafe it's a more serious implication that you're
giving something and just the amount is up to you.
which is a big difference philosophically, i think. there are many approaches to this of course, and i've
found that very subtle differences in tone, form, and technique make big impressions on the “feel” of the
gift economy experiment. for example, at the WSF in brazil (2005), Amanda told me they had a gift
economy organic juice cafe where there was a big basket of money on the counter and you just gave
what you wanted and took whatever change you need. so nobody actually knows how much you paid
(though the accounting would be easy enough at the end to find out the total take; an interesting
encryption scheme actually). that anonymity is very powerful — at both Bigode and Seva Cafe, you know
how much each table paid, which leaves open the possibility for evaluation and judgment (and also
statistics) in your heart. both of which (leaving the statistics aside for the moment) i would venture are
challenges to the agape/detachment/service goals of the gift economy.
another aspect of this juice cafe Amanda had gone to was they had recommended prices. recomendado
prices help deal with the number one problem of the gift economy concept — confusion. people get
confused, flustered, and lost. making people feel lost as part of a process can be really helpful for
growth, but i've also seen people just stranded there.
which is no kind of revolution. i think the combination of the anonymity of the offering with the
recommendation of price is quite powerful — there is a notion of how much one needs to cover cost, and
yet a sense that nobody really cares how much you give. whereas, with the Seva Cafe and our Bigode
model, you might say the opposite is in effect — you have no idea how much you should give, but you
know you will be judged regardless of what happens.
i later visited another experiment, the Karma Kitchen in berkeley. run by the good people people from
Charity Focus, associated with Manav Sadhana and perhaps inspired by the Seva Cafe. i had the
pleasure of meeting and befriending them before eating at the restaurant, and have been able to share
experiences and copies of my cookbook throughout this process. when you go into the Karma Kitchen
(which operated, at the time, on saturdays in an Indian restaurant), they sit you down, give you the
day's menu and tell you that, thanks to some other anonymous party, your meal has already been paid
it's not free. it's not by donation. it's not up to you. it has, very simply, already been paid for . it's a simple
turn of phrase and, in effect, gets the same idea across — you don't have to pay for dinner, it's been
given out of love — but, through the power of language, it displaces the burden of responsibility onto
some random Person Like You. a subtle and powerful technique, efficient as blackmail, that i thought very
clever in taking ego and reaction out of the process.
i'm not giving you the gift, the universe is. so don't even think of taking it up with me. just eat.
expectation is deftly removed from the field of possibility because the Karma Kitchen is not giving you
anything: the universe is. ver? it's nice. it can also be a little heavy in terms of being quite obviously that
it's up to you if you want to pay for somebody else's meal (this starts implicitly and then gets explicit at
the end, at which one is generally frothing at the mouth for an opportunity to give).
one of the biggest palpable differences in these restaurant experiences has to do with the attitude, of
course, of the chefs. chefs are notorious for their mercurial nature of course, but the difference between
volunteers, business-owners, experiment-owners, paid partners, and employees is huge. you can taste
pressure, heaviness, wage labor, and oppression quite easily in the food, when present. this is an issue of
will and consciousness and present regardless of the organizational form, but i think we can and should
develop structures to support the kind of consciousness that prevents bad energy from getting into the
food. that's a whole other conversation of course, and quite apart from the gift economy issue. that is:
there are gift economy restaurants with disgruntled chefs, and school cafeterias where the lunch ladies
are singing. nothing, strictly speaking, is anything other than what it is.
another, ancillary and hopefully closing, note: flexibility. the idea of an experiment in language, economics,
and culture has to do with, for me, a sense of flexibility. so the food should be equally flexible. al
Karma Kitchen, they had these awesome Mango Lassis that they offered to make vegan for anybody who
wanted (it was Berkeley after all) , and we at the Bigode had all of our dishes vegetarian and vegan. la
next restaurant i run will definitely have everything available in vegetarian, vegan, no oil, jain-ahimsa-
style, and raw options.
all of this, for me, runs in the vein of material manifestations of spiritual research. we're all here Being the
best of who we are; the intersection of gifts, food, and agape is yet another avenue we explore, in the
world, to better reveal who we are, in the self.
“Language is based on gift giving. This hypothesis breaks
through the taboo against using nurturing (gift giving) as the
model for other kinds of human activity and it has important
If language is based on nurturing, and if thinking is at least
partially based on language, then thinking is at least partially
based on nurturing.
However, thinking can also be based directly on non-
linguistic nurturing. Sending and receiving messages, which is
a commonplace way of describing chemical and hormonal
interactions in the body, can also be viewed in terms of less
intentional giving and receiving.
If we view language as gift giving transposed onto a verbal
level, and if we accept the idea that it was language that made
humans evolve, we could come to the conclusion that it was the
gift giving aspect of language, not just the capacity for
abstraction that caused the leap forward.
This conclusion could lead us to think that gift giving and
receiving could be the way forward for humanity to evolve
beyond its present danger and distress.
Indeed we could begin to take nurturing as the creative norm
and recognize exchange as the distortion which is causing a de
evolution and a danger to the human species as well as all other
species on the planet.”
- Genevieve Vaughan
IFT OF THE
By way of a brief introduction, the World Café can be understood in at least three ways –
as a process, based a set of integrated design principles
an international community of practitioners and advocates
a metaphor for the living network of conversations that underlies the human experience and
through which we collectively create our lives and futures.
The essence of the World Café work is in the evocation of collective intelligence for the good of the
conjunto. We have a website that provides information and tools so that anyone can understand the World
Café design principles and know what's needed to host the process in their own communities and
The World Café came into the world as a gift. It literally 'appeared' among a group of intellectual pioneers
who'd gathered to speak with each other about something that mattered deeply to them. It came out of
their deep listening to each other and the 'field'. Since then the phenomenon they discovered has been
studied and extensive research done to identify and refine the design principles that lie at the core of
what produces the World Café 'experience'.
So, from its very genesis, the World Café was born into 'a culture of generosity'.
What that meant to co-founders Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, who continued to mindfully nurture this
gift through its first 10 years, was that it remain a gift, freely accessible to all. As Juanita says, “We just
'knew' when the World Café was born in our living room that it was somehow a gift, meant to be used, in
our friend Finn Voldtofte's words, for 'world service.' We recognized early on that this innovative gift
which we had experienced together needed to be shared freely.”
Such a simple and effective tool for fostering deep human connection and evoking the collective wisdom
of groups was too important not to be made freely available, and it has been offered in service to the
innate human capacity to address the challenges of our times since its inception.
From its simple beginnings as a conversation among a small group in David and Juanita's living room, the
World Café has now co-evolved beyond anyone's wildest imaginations into a global dialogue movement.
Here are some of the things we have learned along the way about how to retain and grow its essence as
Design a powerful, easy-to-use process that 'travels well'. The World Café process is a
simple elegant structure that allows collective intelligence to emerge from our conversations using
an age-old pattern in human communication.
Make visible the design principles so that others can adapt and innovate. The World Café
principles are an “open platform” that can be adapted to address questions that matter in ways
that best suit the unique needs of each situation.
Share the core ideas and fundamental process generously . From the beginning the World
Café has been guided to make sure ideas can spread freely through the network and core
materials are readily available at no charge. We have created a website full of resources and an
online StoryNet that holds our stories and makes them available free of charge.
Encourage experimentation and learning . By encouraging adaptation and trusting people to
know how to design and host good conversations, World Café hosts generate a culture of generosity,
contribution, creativity and collaborative learning across fields, sectors and cultures.
Consciously weave the web of relationships . The World Café fosters a spirit of friendship and
hospitality, carefully nurturing both new friends and long-held partnerships and cross-cultural
Nurture emerging leaders and multi-generational collaboration . Welcoming new hosts and
supporting new leaders are guiding principles of the World Café. The online Community of Practice
is another powerful way that the gift spirit travels, as new World Café hosts can ask questions
and put out requests for help that are freely responded to by expert World Café hosts at no cost.
The World Café Community Foundation, while being a 501c3 non-profit, is not a normal NGO. Many key
members of the World Café Community Foundation and the World Café network donate large amounts of
their time as in-kind contributions to the success of the whole. Serving as resources for the rest of the
World Café global network, they step forward as stewards for their regions and/or key areas like research
into the intellectual foundations for our work, virtual communications, inter-generational collaboration.
The voluntary stewardship structure of the World Café is not only a model of the gift economy in itself,
but it's an example that helps nurture the evolving gift economy/culture of generosity at the heart of this
work in the rest of World Café community and all who are touched by the work.
The first ten years of the World Café's evolution was supported financially by co-founders Juanita Brown
and David Isaacs, who 'tithed' back 10% of the income derived from their World Café work, as well as
100% of the royalties from the World Café book, which they continue to give back today. World Café
hosts in countries around the globe are following David and Juanita's lead in 'tithing' back a portion of fees
earned from passing on this work,
thereby helping ensure that this gift
continues to grow.
By subverting the 'commodified' market
on behalf of the gift economy, along with
the other elements of our resourcing
ecology, we enable a continually
expanding circle of people around the
world to experience the power of
conversations about questions that
When we read the cumulative stories of
our collective conversations we begin
to notice the patterns and 'themes' that
are living between us. We start to
understand what these themes are
telling us in relation to the 'great
narrative' of our times. Our collective
understanding gives us an opportunity
to make meaning together and begin to
understand that together we can create
the futures we want to see, which is
the ultimate gift of the World Café.
Wikipedia and the Gift of Co-Creation
Internet and social software have led to the creation of new networks and to a
revitalisation of cultures of exchange and gift economies.
The Wikipedia web-based collaborative encyclopedia is, in most of its operations,
a thriving gift economy. Hundreds of thousands of articles are available on
Wikipedia, and none of their innumerable authors and editors receives any
material reward. Wikipedia has been constructed entirely out of gifts, and gives
information freely. From time to time Wikipedia has engaged in fundraising
activities, asking people to contribute funds toward operating expenses; these
donated funds are gifts, albeit explicitly solicited ones. A tiny portion of
Wikipedia's income comes from product sales, mostly T-shirts, mugs, and the
like, with Wikipedia logos.
Because Wikipedia exists within a money economy, some expenses must be met with
money, such as paying for servers, domain registration, and for certain IT work involved
in server maintenance. Therefore, the information in Wikipedia is a gift economy, but
some operational aspects of its website and related entities are not.
- Excerpt taken from
Recently my new Wired Magazine arrived. It is one of my peepholes to the future, whether in economics,
technology or social change. I make sure my traditional filter of seeing the world, established in my
studies in the 1960s, is shut down when I start to read the articles in Wired….otherwise I would find
myself in a magical world, outside the bounds of what I used to understand is reality, instead of identifying
new realities that are in the process of emerging.
One article that I had read in the March '08 edition of Wired caught my attention, Free: Why $0.00 Is The
Future of Business . As often happens, I began to sense that I was on the verge of uncovering some new
idea or principle that could have a connection to our 'community transformation' work at the Center for
Communities of the Future. As I reread Free , I came to the following quote, “Give a product away and it
can go viral. Charge a cent for it and you are in an entirely different business, one of clawing and
scratching for every customer.”
Then it hit me… due to years of experience as well as thinking about this time of historical transition.
Community Transformation, based on rethinking and redesigning all aspects of how our local communities
educate, govern, lead and provide economic development in a time of constant change, can only occur if
those involved with seeding this transformation recognize that we must “give an idea away and it can go
Thinking about how the ideas in this article connected to the principle presented in the Wired article gave
me a new aha! moment… an understanding that one key reason our Communities of the Future effort
continues to grow and spread is that all the ideas and methods that we have developed (master capacity
builders, creative molecular economy, transformation learning, connective thinking, etc) have always
been free to those who are interested. Without realizing it, because of gifting these ideas, all of us in the
Communities of the Future network have created a brand that helps bring diverse people and ideas
together as a part of collaborative teams to rethink the common good.
Applying the Principle in Community Transformation
Two examples reflect how important the principle of the gift culture is to engaging in and sustaining
community transformation. In this historical time of such interacting challenges related to climate change,
shift in energy solutions, and building capacities for transformation, the willingness of leaders and citizens
to be committed to re-energizing the common good is a cornerstone principle for future vitality and
sustainability for communities. Reaching for new ideas and methods that will be aligned with a constantly
changing society requires a value system that includes capacities for transformation such as helping
each other succeed, a deeper sense of collaboration and a commitment to persist beyond the immediate.
These values cannot be purchased.
'We must become the change we want to see in the world.” This famous quote by Gandhi reflects an
understanding that if we are not willing to provide our time and effort except for pay, how can our
communities build the kind of deeper relationships among diverse people important to their sustainability.
Bliss Browne, originator of Imagine Chicago, and networker of the 'Imagine' concept in countries throughout
the world is a perfect example of someone who offers her time and effort, often without pay, to seed the
idea that citizens can imagine a different world, and, in so doing, transform their communities.
A second example of the importance of a culture of gifting to sustainable community transformation
relates to the introduction of the Communities of the Future workbook and subsequent efforts to sustain
the processes of transformation that require much time and commitment. The COTF workbook provides
both articles and adaptive material that is used to help those interested begin to shift their thinking from
traditional principles to transformational ideas and methods.
By providing a digital workbook and offering follow-up dialogue by email or phone without cost to anyone
who is willing to become a student of the concepts and methods of community transformation, those who
are interested become honestly engaged in the various needs of developing and sustaining community
transformación. An example of a major effort that evolved from this approach is called the Global Rural
An Appropriate Balance
One of the major challenges in the future is to find a balance of values and processes that will sustain a
gift culture in appropriate and effective ways. Only by so doing will local cultures sustain a commitment
to community transformation that will seed and develop concepts and methods such as connective
thinking, use of parallel processes, facilitating futures generative dialogue, and networking diverse people.
Our revenue streams come from secondary requests of people and organizations who read COTF ideas
and methods and invite various members of the core of our network to work with them, speak at
conferences, or facilitate transformative projects because of the experience and expertise we have
developed over the last twenty years.
A fundamental way true transformation will occur with individuals, organizations and communities in the
future, is if they approach their work as if it were a business for which fundamental ideas, principles and
methods were given away in the way a virus spreads….and then build interlocking networks of those
interested in creating capacities for transformation to pay for the expertise of those who have brand
credibilidad. In this way, we will move to a dynamic world economy and society able to adapt to constantly
changing conditions, and, as a result, balance human, economic, spiritual, social, ecological and moral
Probably the greatest benefit to me and our COTF work coming from understanding the principles
undergirding a gift culture is found in my own journey of personal transformation. Trained earlier in the
concept and methods of maximum competition, giving away ideas for free was not a part of my view of
vida. As I grew older, had more experience and thought deeply about the emerging future, I began to shift
my thinking about how society needs to function so that our communities could be vital and sustainable.
Over the last two decades as I began to work with colleagues at a deeper level of collaboration on
various ideas and projects, it become more and more apparent that a culture of collaboration was the
only way to adapt quickly enough to a constantly changing world and economy. The more I became
involved with traditional barriers to change in communities, the more I realized that few people trusted
the motives of each other. A gift culture would become more and more important to bring diverse people,
ideas and processes into contact with each other in ways that would assure the ability to move quickly
enough in constantly changing conditions.
As a result there began to be a shift in my own thinking, and I decided to see my writings and COTF
material as seeds for community transformation and not intellectual property. It was shortly thereafter
that our COTF work began to spread at a greater rate and gained traction as ideas and methods
important to the future of local communities. For me personally, an unintended consequence of giving
COTF material away has been the wonderful relationships that have been formed with people who care
deeply about making the world a better place for future generations. Without exception, those that I
have met have a wonderful balance of values, and realize that happiness does not come from acquiring
more and more. Because of my experiences in this world of a gifting culture, even in this time of
tumultuous change and significant economic challenges, I find myself with a growing spirit of exhilaration
and feeling of internal hope for a better future for our children and grandchildren.
“Bin Paise Cycle Yatra, Chale, Chalo! Chale, Chalo!
[Money-Free Bicycle Journey, Let's Go! C'mon, Let's Go!
Long Live the Bicycle Riders!”]
For the last few years, friends in the Swapathgami network have hosted an challenging unlearning
adventure: spending an entire week traveling on bicycles. ¿El truco? No money in anyone's pockets —
not even one rupee — as well as no food, mobile phones, IPods or allopathic medicines. The Cycle Yatra
is an inward and outward journey/pilgrimage by bicycle. It is an intentional experiment in breaking out of
our fear of money and re-connecting ourselves with the gift culture. It is based on surrendering to the
goodness and generosity of people, nature and the universe to provide both food and shelter, as well as
love and care. It is about revaluing and recovering many of our gifts which have been made invisible.
For all of us who have participated in the yatras , the act of leaving home without money is the first
mental hurdle to overcome. We as urban people are not used to being so vulnerable. This vulnerability,
we have learned, is key to accessing the gift culture. And then removing the other 'safety nets' (of
ready-made food, technologies and medicines) means an even greater level of exposure of our sacred
selves. During the yatra, we cannot meet our daily basic needs by buying things from the Market so we
need to figure out how to re-build positive relationships with people that are not mediated by money or
institutional status. This means that there is also the risk of rejection. Not an easy leap to make for most
of us, and yet having done it again and again, I know it's not only possible but also liberating.
I have participated in all
three week-long cycle
yatras (two in Mewar,
Rajasthan, one in
Chandigarh, Punjab). La
yatra is primarily a
journey of giving and
receiving. It only works
if you both give of
yourself generously and
freely, and if you have the
humility to receive the
gifts of others.
One short story from the
first yatra : There were
about eight of us at this
punto. Several had had to
leave along with way,
either falling ill or being
summoned home by
family members. Tuvimos
reached our 'destination'
(the point on the other
end of our loop, from
which we were going to
start heading back to
I feel a cycle yatra is one of the best things you can do to recover your faith in humanity.
I've learned that a few basic principles/practices are important for re-engaging with the
gift culture in a healthy way.
- Talk to 'Strangers'
The cycle yatra starts with taking a risk and putting your real self out there to the world.
This involved overcoming our own conditioned shyness, fear, and even ego. It sometimes
meant pushing ourselves a bit to share our intimate selves more openly. Villagers helped
in this process by often asking us many 'personal' questions. This also called for us to set
aside many of the labels that we have been conditioned with such as 'illiterate',
'backwards', 'poor', etc. and trying to see and listen to individuals as they truly are in the
spirit of friendship, rather than as development stereotypes. As we slowly re-learned to
appreciate our own gifts as well as those of others, strangers were no longer 'strangers'.
- Renegotiate 'Boundations'
Through the yatra, we quickly remembered that boundaries, rules and norms are not
fixed for eternity. They are human-made and are subject to renegotiation and
transformation, both for ourselves and with others. There were many situations along
the way where we re-engaged our own institutionalized notions such as 'private property',
'hygiene', caste hierarchy, class, religion, gender roles, etc. vis-a-vis peoples' expectations
and the larger commons. This 'border-crossing' opened up many new opportunities for
co-learning. Much of this happened quite spontaneously and naturally as a result of
choosing to stay in the intimacy of people's houses and spending time with nature rather
than at hotels, local government facilities, resorts or youth hostels.
Udaipur): Jaisamand Lake. Fue
beautiful, and several people got
in for a swim. The sun was hot,
so we decided we would stay
there til it dropped a bit and then
make our way to a village for the
por la noche. In the meantime, we
started chatting with all the
different vendors there, who
were curious about us and our
bicycles. In a short time, we
found ourselves painting a mural
on the side of one of their stalls,
chopping vegetables for the
chaat , and soon performing the
short plays, juggling and music
we had prepared as offerings for
the villages we visited. In return,
we accepted tea, fruits and even
Then, the boatmen, who take
tourists as well as locals on the
lake, asked if we would come to
their island for the night. Sus
family had been living on the
island for 400 years, and 65 family
- Try to do an Honest Day's Labour
We were very clear from the outset that we would work for our food, that we
wouldn't go to rural areas and continue the parasitic relationship that city people
have had (of taking, taking, taking). First, only you can decide what is an honest
amount of work for the food, air, water, etc. you consume. There was no one
to tell you what that is. Each person had to work it out for his or herself, and as
a group traveling together, we had to work it out collectively.
Second, no work is too big or small. We graciously accepted whatever work
one gets, whether it was moving heavy baskets of manure to the fields, or
loading endless bundles of hay onto a truck, or harvesting peppers, or sweeping
up the house, or preparing rotis on the earthen stove, or washing dishes. Cada
time we worked, it was an opportunity to heal the connection between our
hands, hearts, heads and spirits.
Lastly, work has to occur without expectations. Sometimes, I would work and
that family wouldn't (or couldn't) offer any food or drink. Nonetheless, I
would still smile and thank them for the opportunity, and then continue on my
way, trusting that the universe would provide eventually.
- Move at the Pace of the Slowest
This phrase is adapted from our friends, the Zapatistas. The yatra is both an
individual as well as a collective journey. It is not a race or some kind of
la competencia. As they travel together, all of the travelers slowly become more
members lived there now. They helped us find a place to keep our bicycles
for the night, and we accompanied them at sunset to their homes on the
isla. Two by two, we each entered a home and chatted and cooked
food with them and ate together. All the children gathered around us at
night and we shared our tent and musical instruments with them and
played games together. The stars that night, from an island floating in
Asia's largest man-made lake, were astounding.
In the morning, we woke early and helped clean the cow and buffalo
cobertizos. We pounded corn to release its kernels and helped collect it into
bolsas. Some of the friends exchanged their knowledge of macramé, and we
played some more games together. Then, the boatmen took us back to
the shore, where we found our bicycles safe and sound. Pedaling away,
we were all overwhelmed and delighted by the generosity and beauty of
the entire experience. It had been magical.
So, for those who want a way to experience life without money and
relationships unmitigated by institutions, the cycle yatra is a bold and
brave undertaking. The beauty of the cycle yatra is that, unlike most
programs, it doesn't cost anything to organize (aside from bicycles and
simple repair equipment, which can also be borrowed and returned). Pero
what it provides is truly priceless. After all, recovering our faith in humanity
and nature is probably the best cure to the readymade world!
Check out some pictures and a film from the first and second cycle yatra
conscious of their own needs
as well as the needs of others
in the group. A container of
trust self-organized to hold the
pilgrims. Those ahead slowed
down to make sure everyone
was in eye-shot and stopped at
forks in the road to make sure
no one was left behind. Aquellos
who had the puncture and
bicycle repair equipment
brought up the rear to help
anyone who might need it. Nosotros
offered massages to each other
when we were tired and shared
our food when there was less.
We gave each other space and
time to reflect and share our
feelings and insights. A lo largo del
way, we learned many lessons
about communication, conflict
transformation, and listening to
The sky, the sun, the moon, the wind and the clouds
are at work,
so that you find a piece of bread not to be eaten with
ignorance of its source.
* * * * *
Our ancestors planted and we ate;
we will plant so that our grandchildren will eat.
- Persian proverbs
shared by Aydin Yassemi, Iran
We rely on nature for the most basic of our human needs. The value of what nature provides – clean
water, fertile soils, an amenable climate and spiritual respite to name but a few dimensions – is infinite.
Yet, all too often in our modern world, 'infinite' translates to 'zero'. Nature's precious gifts are rarely
valued much less recognized. A recent global assessment estimated that two-thirds of nature's bounty –
technically referred to as 'ecosystem goods and services' – are in a state of decline.
Here are a couple of powerful stories to think about. The Amazon basin provides gifts to people around
the world, continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen, cleaning air and regulating regional and
global climate. One fifth of the Amazon has now been lost to loggers, farmers and ranchers. Del mismo modo,
mangroves and other types of coastal wetlands provide much-needed storm protection to countries
situated around the Bay of Bengal. These wetlands act as a natural speed bump mitigating the damage
of cyclones and other tropical storms. However, urban expansion, aquaculture and demand for forests
products have decimated mangroves in Burma which contributed to the great human toll from cyclone
Nargis last year.
The Earth is merciful in what it provides humanity but its patience knows some limits. We are pushing
these limits and are have on occasion crossed the threshold. To help overcome these challenges,
environmentalists have started placing values on ecosystem services. The purpose of placing a monetary
number on nature's gifts is to ensure that these benefits are incorporated in financial and economic
las decisiones. By recognizing that ecosystems generate value, the decisions we take on building new roads
or converting forests to agriculture may be reexamined. Economists call this addressing 'externalities'.
Hundreds of studies have attempted to capture the monetary value of nature in one context or another.
Arguably the most well known of these studies was led by Robert Costanza in 1997. His team came up
with a price tag for all ecosystem services of $33 trillion per year – almost twice the global gross
national product at the time. These services can be categorized under three broad headings:
provisioning services: products obtained from ecosystems including food, fiber, fuel, genetic resources,
regulating services: benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes including erosion
regulation, climate regulation, water purification, pollination, etc.; and,
cultural services: nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment,
cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences.
Although the $33 trillion is a rough estimate and likely understates the true value of Earth's ecosystems,
the study forces us to confront whether we fully recognize the many gifts nature provides to people.
Some have argued, however, that by reducing nature in this way reflects a highly anthropocentric view
of the world, and monetizing this value affirms the primacy of neoliberal economics. This is a reasonable
preocupación. Costanza's study team readily acknowledged that there are moral, ethical and aesthetic reasons
to value and protect nature quite apart from its benefits to humanity. Many religious and spiritual
traditions value nature not only for people's sake but also for nature's sake.
Nevertheless, given the dominance of market-based capitalism, quantifying the value of ecosystem
services, in my view, is one necessary step forward in the short term. We all implicitly make assumptions
about how much we value nature in decisions we take that affect the planet. Being more explicit about
these assumptions in government and business decisions that are based on economic or financial returns
will result in more sustainable choices. This may not entirely solve the ecological crisis before us but it will
help avert the total collapse of those life-affirming goods and services gifted by nature. In the longer run,
we will need to figure out more creative ways to deepen our connection with Mother Nature. A medida que el
Native Americans remind us, “What you people call your natural resources, we call our relatives.”
Kenneth Patchen was a powerful working class poet from Ohio, USA. He wrote some of the strongest
anti-war poetry alongside some of the most tender love poems. He laid some of the groundwork for the
Beats by reading poems with the jazz musician Charles Mingus accompanying him on upright bass. Él
fought long and hard with his words, all of which were acts of defense: the defense of dignity, tenderness,
nurturance, truth, and beauty, all in the face of the horrors of history. He wrote his poetry and prose
through the two World Wars, and never lost sight of the human heart and the natural world, of the
importance of communion and conversation, of resistance and regeneration. Patchen penned this phrase,
“Gentle and giving — the rest is nonsense and treason.”
Becoming rooted in the village of Totorkawa (Cochabamba, Bolivia), I've metaphorically kept that phrase
tucked in my ch'uspa , along with sacred coca leaves, and sometimes a little tobacco. I recall fondly an
interaction I had upon first moving here with my wife Valentina, an embodiment of that phrase (which I've
come to refer to as an ethic of crianza — 'nurturance' in Spanish). I was introduced to a lumberjack/
farmer in a neighbors' dirt floor courtyard where people come together to drink and share the fermented
corn beverage called chicha. This man embraced me and said something along the lines of, “My friend,
there are no strangers here. It is all about friendship, and nurturance.” My heart wanted to sing out in the
presence of such...grace.
I see this gentleman frequently but still don't know his name (often triggering further reflections upon
what it really means to be a gentle man). I call him maestro , and he greets me with a tip of his hat and
an “ Hola hermano !” (Hello brother!). Sometimes he even kisses the knuckles of one of my hands. Fue
a profoundly moving moment for one such as myself — a survivor of the US, which often seems to be
the polar opposite of such warm, human values/principles, ethics. The very word 'nurturance' has even
fallen out of use, damn near disappearing altogether.
When I talk to folks about our work back in Totorkawa in the learning community of UywanaWasi La Casa
de la Crianza (Home of Nurturance), there is usually an uncomfortable pause when I translate crianza into
nurturance. In certain moments, time allowing, the pause becomes an inroad for having a deeper conversation
about how that ethic manifests itself in Andean culture, and what it might look like locally if we recuperated
and re-placed at the very center of our beings and communities such an ethic. Thirty years ago, in the
book The Unsettling of America, the Kentucky poet/farmer/philosopher Wendell Berry wrote about the
dominant culture of exploitation and the threatened culture of nurturance, of how these two mindsets
are present within everyone.
I write this while back in southern Appalachia, where the culture of exploitation has reached horrifying
new levels, in the guise of mountaintop removal, and the appearance of 'supermax' for-profit prisons.
There is still, fortunately, a cultural thread running through the land here that is a thread of nurturance.
It manifests itself in home cooked meals, sitting on the front porch and conversing with friends and
neighbors, playing music, tending a backyard garden of tomatoes, beans, okra, corn. Lots of young
radical activists these days are locking themselves to the entrance gates of coal plants, to tractors and
trucks, dropping banners that name the injustices and its collaborators. Rightly so.
But if those faint and fragile threads of communion and regeneration continue to wither, if they are not
affirmed, practiced, kept front and center in our lives, the laundry list of indignities will become so
overbearing that we may ultimately find ourselves in an existential briar patch, whereupon every activist
type lunge at 'the problem' tears at us and draws a bit more blood. We may end up solely residing in a
state of indignation (a barren land of countless indignities) — knocked off center by righteous anger, no
longer able to be 'gentle', 'giving', unconsciously contributing to the death of nurturance.
My sons, Camay and Samiri, accompany me most mornings, out towards the far side of one of our
chacritas (in the Andean cosmovision, the plot of land where the human community, the community of
deities, and the natural world converse), to warm our bones in the first rays of sunlight. A veces
Samiri, two and a half, wanders over to nibble on some fresh spinach leaves or crunch on a string bean.
Camay, going on seven, in those moments sometimes busies himself gathering up some lemons and apples
from the trees that ring the chacra , to take down the road to share with his friends. They start their day
nestled safely within a cultural hammock where crianza , nurturance, still holds sway.
I'm careful not to idealize or romanticize here. Forces of modernity and progress are weighing down upon
our village every day, as they do upon thousands of other villages across the 'global south'. A veces
one can almost hear a snap! in the wind, as the illusions of modernity seduce (trick!) folks into venturing
into the city to sell their labor on the cold and inhuman free market. Much confusion and violence ensues,
directed toward the self, others, sometimes the land and fellow creatures. The violence I believe comes
when we feel the scales being tipped, when exploitation is held in high esteem, and nurturance is viewed
as child-like, as a thing of the past, an impediment to 'progress' even! It becomes more explosive when
we find ourselves unable to define clearly this grave imbalance and to understand its roots.
Sometimes, as a younger man, I had a recurring dream of being up in the branches of a tree. Each branch
symbolized a beloved person in my life. If I let my gaze trail down one particular branch, I usually, very
quickly, arrived at the excruciatingly painful realization that there was a crippling pain killing that branch,
each and every branch. The dreams have stopped in direct correlation to my growing commitment to get
at the roots of all this pain, and to become a farmer and a poet of crianza .
The late Eduardo Grillo (and his compañeros) of the Peruvian learning community PRATEC, frequently
uttered this phrase: “ Criar y dejarse criar .” Nurture and allow oneself to be nurtured. I added it to my
ch'uspa , where it nestled naturally beside the phrase from Kenneth Patchen. While chewing a little coca,
our boys playing at my feet, I penned this tune, “You're Not Broken”.
A jar o'shine by my side
And fiddle tunes on the wind they do ride
And they tell me somethin' I once did know
They remind me of somethin' I once did know
Boy, you're a child of the Blues, God, and ol' Mother Earth
& spirits gathered 'round at the time of your birth
I recall the day like so many ones before
But it's easy to forget here on the killin' floor
You're a poet, a father, a farmin' man
A rebel, a race traitor, and American
Borders will not hold you, nor no silly little flag
Nor no party allegiance or a stupid little tag
You're a miner of truth and a laborer of love
Communin' with nature and the spirits above
You're not broken, though society'll try like hell
You're not broken, go on boy, I wish you well
A candle sits on a shelf in the hall
Step out on the front porch and hear them night birds call
And they tell me somethin' I once did know
They remind me of somethin' I once did know
Ssshh, listen up, step inside the wind
Life is love and death your friend
Morning glories open, close, climb and fall
Corn spires, cook fires, and children's calls
Sayin', “Hey Mister, 'Scuse me Ma'am,
Won't ya drop down on one knee & help us understand?”
“All those hateful somethings you're a-takin' to your grave
Try takin' a nothin' you love...they call that getting' saved”
“But not by no hustler with a Bible and a billfold in his hand
Ya see the Holy Ghost don't need no middle man”
“'Gentle and Giving' is what it's all about
'The rest is nonsense and treason'
do I have to shout, do I have to shout!?!”
While growing up, I had not given much thought to the custom of giving gifts. Around the time of my
marriage, I gave it a serious thought. Since I was going to have my own house, I wanted to make sure
that each of the gifts I received had some personal meaning for me. I knew that most gift givers gave
gifts to set the equation right – the gift given would have the same money value that they had received
from us on some earlier occasion or if the celebration was going to be lavish, then the giver had to in turn
give an expensive gift to compensate the hosts for their expense. I wondered how these gifts could have
any personal / sentimental meaning attached to them. They were going to be just more material stuff
(which I may not even need) sitting in my house. Therefore, I refused to accept these gifts. Para hacer una
long story short, I did not win this argument with my near and dear ones involved in planning my wedding.
However, I decided to take only those gifts to my house that had sentimental value for me and left the
other gifts for my family to deal with.
At that time, my struggle with the gift giving custom began. I had accepted the idea that as thinking and
feeling beings, we were expressing to others several things through gifts: we loved/cared about them,
appreciated their efforts for us, or valued their presence in our lives, etc. However, when I gave or
received any material gifts, I saw a disconnect between these sentiments and the gift. Rather, I felt that
the material gift watered down the feelings of the giver. Hence, my whole being was stressed at the
thought of accepting gifts. In my initial attempts to end this unsentimental exchange of gifts, I started to
refuse any gifts (even from parents and in-laws on all special occasions). This value of mine led to some
people being very upset with me.
Having put a stop to accepting gifts, I then wondered whether to give gifts. Not accepting gifts was my
value, but not other peoples' value. Therefore, I continued giving gifts. This too was stressing me out
because my friends and family had enough material stuff and I felt it pointless to add more to that, and
also, the purchased gifts were a cheap way to express the sentiments with which I was giving. I soon
reached a point where I neither accepted nor gave gifts.
But, due to my own conditioning, I started to feel awkward to go to any special celebrations without a
gift in hand. Around this time, my husband and I started to brainstorm for gifting ideas that could express
our sentiments and were beyond the material gifts. We came up with several ideas for gifting and decided
that when we got invited to the next celebration we could give the host a choice of gifts that we could
dar. There were several ideas we came up with:
- giving a sapling on the occasion of a child birth
- offering to do landscape work as a house warming gift
- giving 'Food for talk' cards on the occasion of marriage/anniversary or when they have teenagers in the
- offering to cook for a week for a new mother
- spending quality time with our friends' kids on their birthdays (this looks like everyday stuff, but in the
lives of many children, adults do not spend time playing/doing stuff that children enjoy)
- giving used books to bring fresh perspectives to one's life
- offering to organize or cleanup after a big function
- on our friends' birthdays offering to baby sit or giving them a break from their daily chores
- making beautiful hand-made cards, or a piece of hand-made art to beautify their home or garden
- donating blood to Red Cross or money to other socially-responsible organizations on their behalf
I felt giving such gifts gives me the opportunity to deepen my relationship with the receiver, or sometimes
to share ideas and values close to my heart. It does not feel like a mindless transaction. Note: Such gifts
can be given only when the receiver values them.
Excited about such gift ideas, I decided to be open to the idea of accepting gifts. So at present, when
someone wants to give me a gift I try and start a dialogue with that person to see if she is open to such
offbeat ideas of gifting. If yes, and she wants to really please me then the gift ideas for this year include:
- try and reduce your water consumption
- for 3 months refuse plastic/paper bags when grocery shopping (carry reusable bags)
- give used books with fresh perspectives, etc.
I am pleased to say that I have already received one such gift on my birthday. A friend agreed to take
one less shower per day for three months. I am now excited with the whole idea and want to start my
own gift registry where people can pick and give me gifts that are not mere material transactions. I look
forward to more such ideas from my friends and family.
“…perhaps the true measure of the gift in art is how it surprises us – that is, how it
awakens our perception of the other, how we are moved by it and what it revives in
our own soul. If we place it under too bright a light — as we so often do when we try
to make art a commodity that can be replicated on demand — we risk sacrificing the
gratuitous nature of the gift in art that gives it its inner power to change and
In this respect, gifts are the agent of liveliness. Their true measure is in how they
undo our expectations and surprise us. And this may be how we learn to recognize
the gift in art. It is the moment of heightened powers, when the speaker speaks and
is also spoken through, when the pianist plays and is also being played. Nos encontramos con
ourselves in a place that is so close to our own nature and our own heart that there is
no effort — and while when we are there, we cannot possibly be anywhere else. Sin embargo,
when we are not there, it is impossible to find. But for a moment it has us… And once
the matrix is set, it is something from which to grow out from, so that we may always
act from a place of presence and in the fullness of our own gifted life. [...]
For all of time, we have co-existed in not one, but two, economies — one based on the
commerce of the market, the other on the commerce of the creative spirit or gift
de cambio. While the gift can survive without a market, the market cannot survive for
long without the gift. Yet, in past years, the rapid rise of industrialism has expanded
the economy of the market at the expense of the exchange of gifts. We cannot
return to the past. But we can begin to merge together the wisdom of our heritage
with the progress of our evolving technology and modern thought.
That is the quest that Walt Whitman called us to: to be witnesses to the world and,
at the same time, to be servants of the gift. In the fullness of time, we will find
again the enchantment that is life's reward for living a gifted life.
The mind may wander, but the heart
Knows where we belong.
Come let us travel the Let us
open road together.
Hear the song that may awaken
to a beauty greater
than words can tell.
- Michael Jones
Fertile Ground – Reflections on Living a Gifted Life (excerpted) www.pianoscapes.com
Started in 1999, CharityFocus is an all volunteer-run, nonprofit organization that endeavors to leverage
technology for inspiring greater volunteerism and providing meaningful volunteer opportunities for all
who want them — no matter what their skills, how much time they have to give, where they are
located, and what their interests. Our organization has been built as an experiment in the joy of giving.
Do-Nothing Design: perhaps it is because CharityFocus had no other choice, our work falls under
Fukuoka's elegant Do-Nothing paradigm. Of course, it doesn't mean not doing anything, but it implies
organically self-organizing into innovation, efficiency, and scale. Our effort lies in creating distributed,
decentralized, many-to-many systems where our centralized role stays minimal and invisible. Estamos
simply instruments in holding the space for our values. And ultimately, this quality of our designs are
rooted in our collective awareness. Several years ago, after a walking pilgrimage, I wrote a small post
called “My Design Principles” that ended with: “When I go deeper within myself, I am affecting all three of
my design principles very directly: see reality as it is, master your mind and be in tune with nature.”
Be Volunteer-Run: this is our first principle. This nestles you into the 'power of many', and with the
Internet, this networked power of many creates a rich density of interconnections that self-organize
itself into umpteen, unimaginable directions. With all volunteers, the trust is very high and that improves
efficiency radically; in addition, it gives rise to servant leadership where the chief coordinator isn't your
boss, but more like a sibling who can mirror a deeper potential you wish to be manifest in the world. Que
servant leadership radically alters the organizational DNA. Furthermore, being volunteer-run dramatically
reduces your overhead and allows you to deliver services for free; and because the barrier to entry is
reduced, it attracts people and shifts the traditional supply-push model to a demand-pull one. Nuestro
'business plans' are always a step behind the future, right smack in the present; ie. our new projects
aren't based on predictions about anticipated scenarios in the future — it's always about looking at the
present and saying, conditions are ripe for this new project or innovation. As a result, there is no such
thing as a failed idea; implementation could fail but the timing is always spot on. And ultimately, giving
your time is profound in and of itself; in a recent interview on giving time instead of money, I said: “If
giving money is generosity, giving time is generosity on steroids.” :)
Don't Fundraise: this is our second principle. “This is enough,” is our attitude, no matter what we
tienen. If it feels like this is *not* enough, the lack is in the heart of the organization and that is only
fulfilled by one thing — stepping up the selfless service. :) When our Smile Card sustainability experiments
failed, we decided to step up it up — Smile Cards went on sale. It made no sense, but the next day,
someone randomly sent in a donation that covered our costs. Just as a laundry machine is useful without
knowing the details of centripetal force of the spin cycle, this principle of serving selflessly until you have
enough also is quite useful. :) We can't theorize it or replicate it, but we can give anecdote after
anecdote about how it has worked for us. To me, this is about the 'power of monastic'. Monks and nuns
across all traditions have understood this and lived on these principles for centuries; the CharityFocus
challenge is to create an organization that is 'monastic'. To work in this way, at a practical level, is to
revere all life. My two word mantra is — 'assume value'. Last week, I had a coffee with this woman
trying to “bring more noble speech in the world”; two weeks later, she wrote a glowing article on her
sitio. On the other hand, two days ago, someone egged our house, which is equally an offering too. No
matter who it is, no matter what they are offering, assume value; everyone has gifts and they are
constantly offering those gifts to the present moment. You just need to cultivate the eyes to see the
value in it. At a subtle level, not fundraising allows us to deeply value all people, all events, and all life.
Think small: this is our third principle. No matter what the project, its smallest base case has to have
significado. DailyGood started with four friends as subscribers — and even if it ended after one email, it
was meaningful. Today, it reaches 70K people daily and that's fine too. PledgePage empowers people to
do events to raise money for their favorite nonprofits; the site users have raised more than $3MM but
even if it didn't scale, it has meaning for that one person running that one marathon in honor of their
mother who has breast cancer. Thinking small, though, has subtler ramifications too. Over time, the
base case starts shrinking from one-project to one-action; ie you start valuing every step of the
proceso. And when you become deeply process-oriented and hold the smallest action with the reverence
it deserves, you outsource the outcome-management to the self-organizing principles of nature. Usted es
not at all worried about how fast the project will be implemented, how you will sustain it or scale it, if
someone will copy it or whatever. This is truly liberating, and naturally increases your capacity. Una rica
guy once asked Mother Teresa about her fundraising plan and she essentially said, “How should I know?”
Sages have always understood this very clearly. :) Just as fundraising become a major overhead in
traditional organizations, our attachment to outcomes is another attachment that even non-traditional
efforts can face and our third principle helps us counter that by being deeply process-oriented.
Full-on Gift-Economy: this is the foundation of the CharityFocus work. In a gift economy, goods and
services are given freely, without asking for anything in return; instead of 'savings', it is the circulation of
the unconditional offerings within the community that leads to increase — increase in connections,
increase in relationship strength. In that spirit, we started by gifting our services, then added Smile
Cards, a volunteer-run restaurant named Karma Kitchen, an art magazine called works & conversations.
What sustains the gift-economy are people who carry the gift forward; to create this cycle, we need to
empower everyone to be a producer, reduce barrier to entry, and create networks to amplify word of
la boca. For us, that translates into producing stories, doing everything for free, leveraging the Internet.
No Soundbyte: whenever people ask about CharityFocus, they've been culturally programmed to listen
for soundbytes. Soundbytes are useful sometimes, but they're harshly approximate to the point of
inaccuracy; so now-a-days, I just don't do it. If you're seeking
inspiration or utility from CharityFocus, we can help; if you're
looking to replicate or capture the model, you have to look
deeply at our values and be-the-change.
Radically Open: when the dominant paradigm sees a success
story, it aims to box it into its familiar patterns. It happens at
a personal level and at an institutional level. Being caught in
the security of replicable patterns is limiting, and often fatal.
In 2005, in the height of CharityFocus potential, I wondered if
I had the guts to drop the manifestation of CharityFocus and
stay committed to my values on the roads of India. And so my
wife and I, without a plan B, took off on a walking pilgrimage.
If my fellow volunteers saw value in CharityFocus, they'd keep
it running; if they had new experiments they wanted to try,
they could do that; and if no one cared, then it would be the
finales. A year later, much had changed and grown and I was
offered leadership once again. Much in the way, we aim to
radically open to new ideas. When Richard and I first met, we
had no intention of starting a gift-economy magazine but it
que pasó. Practically all our ideas come from the most
unsuspecting places, and because we're radically open, we're
learned how to tune in.
No Choreographed Diversity: lot of circles will work hard to
manufacture diversity; it's a good first step but having been
on the receiving end of it, it often feels superficial. Yes, you
Taking the tool of human kindness one step
further, we've introduced the 'Kindness
Card'. This card enables you to present a
tangible reminder of kindness to its recipient.
Example (just one of many).... you pull into
a drive-thru and pay for your order. En lugar
of just taking your food and pulling off,
give the Gift of Kindness and pay for the
person behind. Sure it may cost you $5 but
the simple act will have a profound impact
on that person and in your own life. It's easy,
you tell the cashier you want to pay for that
person behind you too. You then hand the
cashier a KINDNESS CARD and ask that
they give the card to the person when they
pull through to pay. This lets the recipient
know and become aware of the initiative as
the card explains it. Later in the day or week,
this person will look at the card and it will
remind them that they were the recipient of
the Gift of Kindness. The card serves as a
reminder and a vehicle to be contagious and
spread positive energy.
have different colored skins in the room, yes, you have a gender balance, and yes, all socio-economic
classes are represented, but that's not necessarily honoring diversity. When an indigenous shaman talks
about holding paradoxes, it feels so much different than a intellectual semi-listening to an opposing
teoría. At CharityFocus, perhaps because we have no resources, we pretty much can't manufacture
anything. As a result, we're honest, transparent, and humbly comfortable in our own skin.
Networked Communities: as members are added to a network linearly, the value of the network
increases exponentially, which charted looks as if it were headed to infinity; that is, the more inter-
connected we are, the greater our value. With every new project, CharityFocus provides a platform
which: a) provides tools for creating value, b) generates auto-catalytic networks that blur the line
between producers and consumers, and c) opens up its collective distribution channels to foster many-
No Advertising: considering that we send 50 million solicited emails per year, to our user base of 195K
members, we could easily throw in a few ads in the mix and more than cover our costs even with just a
1% click through rate. That doesn't even count our websites that attracts visits from millions of unique
visitantes. But wanting something in return from the service you provide inherently clutters the spirit of
your offering, and so we have steered clear of this.
Full Transparency: with CharityFocus rules of operation, transparency is critical. Everyone has to be
in-the-know about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and how they can participate in the
revolución. There's a fine line between not asking and sharing information, and we have to skilfully walk
that line in a way that is authentic. And sometimes you have the opposite problem; like this year, we
attracted (a lot) more money than we needed; so we wrote about it and true to our ethic of no-
accumulation, we gave it away. Our blog is a great place to share information, we have Tigers Updates
that shares visionary pieces, and we have many excuses to gather in person as well.
No Cashing Out: when you serve freely, you attract people and gain influence. Most institutions, from
corporate to spiritual, aim to 'monetize' that attention. But how far can you go without cashing out? Nosotros
don't know, but we want to push the bounds. While we are in position to have staff and increase
efficiency in some specialized sense, we would never do that because it would disturb the entire ecosystem.
Instead we ponder this kind of question — what happens if you invest all of the 'return on influence' back
Personal Journey: the biggest question that everyone asks: “If you live in this gift-economy way, how
do you pay your personal bills?” And that's generally followed by, “Is everyone in your organization like
this?” The answer to the latter question is, no. Everyone has their own unique equation. Some are
retired, and are naively exuberant, some have good karma, some are dedicated, some are exploring, some
are tithing, and so on. Most are volunteers who give a few hours a week. What brings us all together is
that we all care about the spirit of service. And as per the personal question of how one survives in gift-
economy, I generally cite three core areas: (a) service: deliver concrete value to those around you; (b)
context for suffering: because you won't always get what you want, you have to have your own answer
to why bad things happen to good people; (c) community: friends whose journeys are inter-twined with
your own liberation. The first talk I ever gave, when I was 23 and CharityFocus had just started, still
rings true. Incidentally, I later ended up being married in that same monastery.
The Gift of Hospitality
It's an age-old tradition: people traveling from their land to another, to meet,
interact, exchange, learn from, pray with, understand and connect. Travel became
a way to find common ground, reflect on one's own life and eliminate a sense of
'Other-ness' from our minds and hearts. This tradition is based on the simple
practice of hospitality. Unfortunately, in many cases, travel has been replaced
with 'tourism' — thereby commodifying most aspects of the interaction and moving
away from the intention of connection and reflection, and into the downward spiral
of consumerism. Cultural exchange has become more about museums, sightseeing
and shopping than about living peoples. Yet, thankfully, several individuals and groups
are trying to keep alive the original gifts of hospitality, intimacy and friendship in
today's world. They are using the internet to enable 'travelers' and 'hosts' to find
entre sí. The intimacy of staying in someone's home provides a special context
for discovering and sharing each other's gifts. No money is requested or required
in any of these exchanges — only the commitment to respect each other's integrity.
“Do you love meeting people from other cultures? Do you love traveling? Do you love helping
other people? Then this is the place for you to be!”
Hospitality Club is supported by volunteers who believe in one idea: by bringing travelers in
touch with people in the place they visit, and by giving 'locals' a chance to meet people from other
cultures we can increase intercultural understanding and strengthen the peace on our planet.
“Participate in creating a better world, one couch at a time.”
1,084,704 Successful Surf or Host Experiences
231 Countries Represented; 57,839 Cities Represented
CouchSurfing isn't about the furniture - it's not just about finding free accommodations around
the world - it's about raising our collective consciousness. We strive to make a better world by
opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that
cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans,
continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we
relate to the world!
“With every true friendship, we build the basis for world peace.”
Servas International was founded by a peace activist in 1949 to generate understanding, tolerance
and peace through intercultural dialogue.
I do think that if I had to choose one word to which hope can be tied, it is hospitality. A practice of
hospitality recovering threshold, table, patience, listening, and from there generating seedbeds for virtue
and friendship on the one hand. On the other hand, radiating out for possible community, for rebirth of
de la comunidad.
Hospitality, that is, the readiness to accept somebody who is not from our hut, [across to] this side of
our threshold to this bed in here, seems to be, among the characteristics which anthropologists can
identify, one of the most universal, if the not the most universal. But hospitality, wherever it appears,
distinguishes between those who are Hellenes and those who are 'blabberous', barbarians. Hospitalidad
primarily refers to Hellenes who believed there is an outside and an inside. Hospitality is not for humans in
general. Then comes that most upsetting guy, Jesus of Nazareth, and by speaking about something
extraordinarily great and showing it in example, he destroys something basic.
When they ask him, “Who is my neighbor?” he tells about a Jew beaten up in a holdup and a Palestinian
(called a Samaritan, he came from Samaria, actually he's a Palestinian). First two Jews walk by and don't
notice the beaten Jew. Then the Palestinian walks by, sees that Jew, takes him into his own arms, does
what Hellenic hospitality does not obligate him to, and treats him as a brother. This breaking of the
limitations of hospitality to a small in-group, offering it to the broadest possible in-group, and saying, you
determine who your guest is, might be taken as the key message of Christianity.
Then, in the year 300 and something, finally the Church got recognition. The bishops were made into
something like magistrates. The first things those guys do, these new bishops, is create houses of
hospitality, institutionalizing what was given to us as a vocation by Jesus, as a personal vocation,
institutionalizing it, creating roofs, refuges, for foreigners. immediately, very interesting, quite a few of
the great Christian thinkers of that time, 1600 years ago (John Chrysostom is one), shout: “If you do
that, if you institutionalize charity, if you make charity or hospitality into an act of a non-person, a
community, Christians will cease to remain famous for what we are now famous for, for having always an
extra mattress, a crust of old bread and a candle, for him who might knock at our door.” But, for political
reasons, the Church became, from the year 400 or 500 on, the main device for roughly a thousand years
of proving that the State can be Christian by paying the Church to take care institutionally of small
fractions of those who had needs, relieving, the ordinary Christian household of the most uncomfortable
duty of having a door, having a threshold open for him who might knock and whom I might not choose.
This is what I speak about as institutionalization of charity, the historical root of the idea of services, of
the service economy. Now, I cannot imagine such a system being reformable, even though it might be
your task and the task of courageous people whom I greatly admire. The impossible task they take on is
to work at its reform, at making the evils the service system carries with it as small as possible. Lo que
would have chosen is to awaken in us the sense of what this Palestinian example meant. I can choose. Yo
have to choose. I have to make my mind up whom I will take into my arms, to whom, l will lose myself,
whom I will treat as that vis-a-vis, that face into which I look, which I lovingly touch with my fingering
gaze, from whom I accept being who I am as a gift.
We felt the following excerpts from Marianne Gronemeyer's article, “Helping”, would help to demonstrate the difference
between 'helping' and the gift culture/economy.
“If I knew for certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me
good, I should run for my life… for fear that I should get some of his good done to me.”
- Henry David Thoreau
Help as a threat, as the precursor of danger? What a paradox!
Modern help has transgressed all the components of the traditional conception of help. Far from being
unconditional, modern assistance is frankly calculating. It is much more likely to be guided by a careful
calculation of one's own advantage than by a concerned consideration for the other's need.
Nor is help any longer, in fact, help to someone in need; rather it is assistance in overcoming some kind of
déficit. The obvious affliction, the cry for help of a person in need, is rarely any longer the occasion for
ayuda. Help is much more often the indispensable, compulsory consequence of a need for help that has
been diagnosed from without. Whether someone needs help is no longer decided by the cry, but by some
external standard of normality. The person who cries out for help is thereby robbed of his or her autonomy
as a crier. Even the appropriateness of a cry for help is determined according to this standard of
The embarrassment surrounding foreign aid, which makes it so difficult to spare the receiver shame,
comes from the fact that it is development help. Only under this rubic is help not help in need, but help
in overcoming the deficit. Between these two types of help there exists an unbridgeable difference. A
understand it, one has to have considered the equally profound distinction between need and neediness.
The person suffering need experiences it as an intolerable deviation from normality. The sufferer alone
decides when the deviation has reached such a degree that a cry of help is called for. Normal life is both
the standard of the experience of need as well as of the extent of the help required. Help is supposed to
allow the sufferer to reapproach normality. In short, the sufferance of need, however miserable that
person may be, is the master of his or her need. Help is an act of restoration .
The needy person, on the other hand, is not the master of his or her neediness. The latter is much more
the result of a comparison with a foreign normality, which is effectively declared to be obligatory. Uno
becomes needy on account of a diagnosis — I decide when you are needy. Help allotted to a needy
person is a transformative restoration.
Help for self-help does not reject the idea that the entire world is in need of development; that, this way
or that, it must join the industrial way of life. Help for self-help still remains development help and must
necessarily, therefore, still transform all self-sufficient, subsistence forms of existence by introducing
them to 'progress'. As development help, it must first of all destroy what it professes to save — the
capacity of a community to shape and maintain its way of life by its own forces. It is a more elegant form
of intervention, undoubtedly, and with considerably greater moral legitimacy. But the moral impulse within
it continues to find its field of operation in the 'development-needy countries' and to allow the native and
international policy of plunder to continue on its unenlightened course. In this light, the sole helpful
intervention would be to confront and resist the cynical wielders of power and the profiteers in one's own
home country. Help for self-help is only a half-hearted improvement on the idea of development help
because it exclusively mistrusts help, and not development itself…
“Helping” is available in full in The Development Dictionary:
A Guide to Knowledge as Power , edited by Wolfgang Sachs, 1992
“In Islam, any benefit accruing to a lender of money is regarded
as usury and is prohibited. There is no such thing as a 'usurious'
rate of interest in Islamic law, because all rates of interest are
usurious. And although the prohibition of usury is not a cure-all
for the maladies of modern life, where it has been implemented
as part of a wider regime of Islamic regulation, the historical
precedents are excellent. The universities, hospitals, welfare
systems, and infrastructure of Iraq, Spain and the Ottoman
Empire were funded without resort to interest-bearing loans.
The lesson is clear. Interest-based finance is not a pre-requisite
for society's sustainable advancement. In today's context, the
prohibition of interest would yield immediate benefits to the
majority of the world's poor.”
- Tarek El Diwany
Resurgence Magazine, May/June 2008
Christopher R. Lindstrom
It might be said that the proverbial emergence of humanity, in the form of Adam and Eve within the
Garden of Eden, was, in fact, the emergence of the self-aware human being. By 'self-aware', I do not
mean in the sense where someone is feeling insecure or out of touch, but someone who is connected to
the source of one's own being, both within one's own consciousness and also permeating throughout all
of nature, the cosmos, the totality of physical and non-physical existence. This primordial enlightening
occurred thousands of years ago. The cultures, knowledges and ways of life assumed by these ancestors
has been past down to the remnant of indigenous cultures and tribes scattered across the earth.
But in modern 'civilized' times, these people are dismissed as primitive charlatans; naive savages, who,
unable to come to terms with the perilous forces they were confronted by in the wilderness, projected
imaginary visions of supernatural beings into the world. Because they did not have the faculties of
reason to understand the world around them, or to accept what they didn't know, these supernatural
beings were the result of make-believe stories and myths to satisfy their desire for meaning.
However, there is much evidence that there is another side to it. These peoples were, in fact, communing
with the deepest depths of their own consciousness — a consciousness that was intimately one with the
rest of Creation. They were adept at willingly entering states of consciousness that gave them access
to another reality, an alternate reality, yet one that was inseparable from the one of waking consciousness.
The Aborigines call this state 'Dream Time', because it was literally connecting with the same lucid state
that we often encounter in our dreams, where we are connected with a myriad of characters and visions.
For these ancient people, it was Sacred knowledge. It gave them, not just faith, but an experiential
connection with what may be called the spiritual forces animating the physical cosmos. With this direct
experience of a transcendental force, behind the veil of space and time, comes a profound respect for
nature and the awesome and mysterious powers, rhythms, and patterns that sculpt its perpetual
In the world of modern cities, a whole other side of our consciousness reigns supreme. The shamanic and
revelatory consciousness has warped into a new perverse form — the religion of Economics. Sin embargo,
conventional economics has a fundamental error: it has narrowed our relationship to nature from one
being based on a primary respect and recognition to the integration and interdependence of living
systems, to a sense that we are somehow disconnected from this rudimentary fountain of life, and that
it exists solely to fulfill our unquenchable thirst for material pleasure and our personal pursuits for power
and prestige. So, the modern economic system is designed to do just that. It is the proverbial 'Ring of
Power,' placing God-like abilities to dominate nature and other human beings into the hands of a relatively
small group of unspeakably immature and irresponsible individuals. It is unapologetically biased towards
the dominance of private finance over all aspects of the economy, the rest of humanity, and of nature in
If economics is the religion, then money is the god. After all, what is money but an unholy faith? It puts
trust in a system that fundamentally erodes the livelihood of those who are not strong or clever enough
to compete, erodes the very ecological system that we depend on for our ultimate survival?
Nearly all religions and spiritual traditions bear warnings to humanity. The greater we exercise our powers
of creation upon the earth, we must, at the very least, assume a much greater respect and reverence for
the cosmic and unknown forces at work. Buried in scriptures and mythologies is an awareness of
humanity's fated, perilous clash with the God of nature — a recognition that should we open up the
Pandora's box of money, capital and economic growth upon the world, we would be fatally undoing the
natural balance of things. Yet, whether you believe in religious prophesies or not, our times are wrought
with looming catastrophes of apocalyptic proportions: global warming, mass species extinction and species
loss, peak oil, global warfare, financial meltdowns. What's more, they all appear to be moving toward a
common, imminent convergence point.
In the face of these disturbing truths, our only hope is to radically transform the systems that are largely
responsible for this destruction. Even more importantly, we must transform the elements in ourselves
that bind us to the unholy will of global corporatism, militarism and private finance. This economic
transformation can be synthesized by creating a new economic practice: the practice of sacred economics.
This new discipline is the inclusion of knowledge and respect of the Sacredness of all living beings, of all
life, directly into our economic institutions. The means for measuring and valuing wealth must also be
designed to account for the health of the environment that we live in, as well as the collective wealth
and vitality of communities.
Of course, it is essentially impossible to quantify all of these values in numerical terms. Nor is it
essentially necessary to account for their transfer. Nature provided for all life forms without the written
means of accounting for the exchange of energy. People can live with this in mind. Aquellos que han
discovered the art of 'paying it forward' have shown that magical transformations can occur in a person,
when they awaken to the power and possibility of giving (see groups like www.charityfocus.org ).
Here are a few principles of sacred economics. It is a concept and practice I am still evolving, and I would
love your feedback on it.
Giving and Receiving
Life is a constant act of giving and receiving. In order for life to thrive, energy must circulate. Se trata de un
general principle that in any system the energy that goes out of that system must be replenished. Este
is true for our breath when we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and it is true when we
consume food and drink and expel human waste. This ecological reciprocity is key to life. In nature,
every bit of waste becomes the food of another organism.
In our rape and pillage economy, we have overloaded the environment with wastes that it cannot use, so
they become toxic and destructive. And so it must be with money, if indeed, money remains a part of
human society. Money must be made to account in some way or another for the generosity of the sun,
the air, the waters. It must be real reflection of nature, and it must be sure that all things that we
extract from nature go back in a way that nature can assimilate in a life-sustaining way.
Chief Seattle said in a famous speech, “ How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? La idea
is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy
them?” This principle is shared amongst all indigenous peoples and is central to an economics of the
sacred. Putting land, or the rights to land, in the marketplace creates a cultural disconnection from
nature, because people become preoccupied with an artificially prescribed monetary value, rather than
understanding that land's real value cannot be measured, only experienced by relating to it with gratitude
and reverence. 'Property-fication' also forces us to relate to land in terms of 'plots' and artificially
created borders, thereby negating the natural seamless-ness and interconnectedness of ecology.
Information is only scarce, when people make it scarce. If I have knowledge, sharing it does not deprive
me of it; it only makes everyone better off. Unfortunately, the modern education system operates on the
opposite principle: putting a price on knowledge, so only a few can access it, thereby keeping it scarce.
Part of Sacred Economics will be dismantling this scarcity of learning in our lives. It will mean breaking
out of the monopoly of schooling, and instead exploring and creating a myriad of learning spaces to
connect to the passions, dreams, needs, questions, of each person and community.
Sacred Economics cannot have interest as the principle means by which money is created. Muy pocos
people know this, but the fact is, all money is created as interest-bearing debt. This creates a fundamental
burden on society to work under stress, to keep ahead of the compounding of compound interest. Si
think about it, the mathematics of interest dictate that those who have more money earn greater profits
on their money than those with less. This very simple yet profound reality is at the core of our social
Nearly all religions have in them some prohibition against usury. Islamic countries, in fact, have instituted
this prohibition into their laws. Yet, these warnings have been completely ignored in western society.
The recent financial bubble bursts are simply what is destined to happen when we base our system on
la usura. The bubbles of debt, financial speculation, and real estate grow so big that they overwhelm the
physical economy, essentially eating away at it, just like cancer depletes the life force of the body until
it collapses completely.
The modern economy is very good at making people feel separate and alone. By creating an intrinsic
wealth gap into the system, it tends to build resentment and depression into the minds of those who
have less, and it creates a fear of that resentment in the minds of those with excess wealth. También se
compels people to exploit the land, so as to get ahead in the market. The result is social and ecological
alienation and degradation. This way of being is illusory and pathological.
Einstein once said,
“A human being is a part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time
and space. And yet we experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something
separated from the rest — a kind of optical illusion of our consciousness. This illusion is
a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few
people nearest us. Our task must be
to free ourselves from this prison by
widening our circle of compassion to
embrace all living beings and all of
I believe that this task is the only thing that will allow
human beings to continue living on this earth. Para ser
here, to be alive, is a blessing that needs to be
appreciated through the way we interact with one
another, by bringing forth generosity and love,
consciously, into all dimensions of life. Dismantling the
systems of domination that perpetuate the illusion of
separation, most notably, the neo-liberal system of
economics, but also religion and politics, is the most
important step in the liberation of humanity.
However, this cannot be done by any activities that
oppose the system. We must do it through dis-engaging
de la misma. We can do this gradually by creating new systems,
new social organisms, that, like the emergence of a
butterfly out of a caterpillar, will feed off of the energy,
resources and knowledge generated by the old system.
Once this process begins, it will be unstoppable. I believe
that it has, indeed, already begun.
“The Vedas have an unqualified emphasis of
human responsibility towards the sustenance
of all. This is based on the Indian
understanding of human life as a gift that is
constituted of and is sustained by all aspects
of creation. Man is thus born in and lives in
rna, (indebtedness) to all creation, and it
therefore becomes his duty to recognize this
debt and undertake to repay it everyday.”
– Annam Bahu Kurvita
“All revolutions are spiritual at the source. All my activities have the sole purpose of achieving a union
of hearts. Jai jagat! — Victory to the world!”
- Vinoba Bhave
On April 18, 1951, the historic day of the very genesis of the Bhoodan movement, Vinoba entered
Nalgonda district, the centre of Communist activity. The organizers had arranged Vinoba's stay at Pochampalli,
a large village with about 700 families, of whom two-thirds were landless. Pochampalli gave Vinoba a warm
bienvenida. Vinoba went to visit the Harijan (the Untouchables) colony. By early afternoon villagers began to
gather around Vinoba at Vinoba's cottage. The Harijans asked for eighty acres of land, forty wet, forty dry
for forty families that would be enough. Then Vinoba asked,”If it is not possible to get land from the
government, is there not something villagers themselves could do?” To everyone's surprise, Ram Chandra
Reddy, the local landlord, got up and said in a rather excited voice: “I will give you 100 acres for these
people.” At his evening prayer meeting, Ram Chandra Reddy got up and repeated his promise to offer 100
acres of land to the Harijans.
Vinoba could not believe his ears. Here, in the midst of a civil war over land monopoly, was a farmer willing
to part with 100 acres out of simple generosity. And Vinoba was just as astounded when the Harijans
declared that they needed only 80 acres and wouldn't accept more!
Vinoba suddenly saw a solution to the region's turmoil. In fact, the incident seemed to him a sign from God.
At the close of the prayer meeting, he announced he would walk all through the region to collect gifts of
land for the landless.
So began the movement called Bhoodan — 'land-gift'. Over the next seven weeks, Vinoba asked for
donations of land for the landless in 200 villages of Telengana. Calculating the amount of India's farmland
needed to supply India's landless poor, he would tell the farmers and landlords in each village, “I am your
fifth son. Give me my equal share of land.” And in each village—to his continued amazement—the donations
Who gave, and why? At first most of the donors were farmers of moderate means, including some who
themselves owned only an acre or two. To them, Vinoba was a holy man, a saint, the Mahatma's own son,
who had come to give them God's message of kinship with their poorer neighbors. Vinoba's prayer meetings
at times took on an almost evangelical fervor. As for Vinoba, he accepted gifts from even the poorest —
though he sometimes returned these gifts to the donors — because his goal was as much to open hearts
as to redistribute land.
Gradually, though, the richer landowners also began to give. Of course, many of their gifts were inspired
by fear of the Communists and hopes of buying off the poor — as the Communists were quick to proclaim.
But not all the motives of the rich landowners were economic. Many of the rich hoped to gain “spiritual
merit” through their gifts; or at least to uphold their prestige. After all, if poor farmers were willing to give
sizeable portions of their land to Vinoba, could the rich be seen to do less? And perhaps a few of the rich
were even truly touched by Vinoba's message. In any case, as Vinoba's tour gained momentum, even the
announced approach of the “god who gives away land” was enough to prepare the landlords to part with
some of their acreage.
Soon Vinoba was collecting hundreds of acres a day. What's more, wherever Vinoba moved, he began to
dispel the climate of tension and fear that had plagued the region. In places where people had been afraid
to assemble, thousands gathered to hear him — including the Communists. At the end of seven weeks,
Vinoba had collected over 12,000 acres. After he left, Sarvodaya workers continuing to collect land in his
name received another 100,000 acres.
The Telengana march became the launching point for a nationwide campaign that Vinoba hoped would
eliminate the greatest single cause of India's poverty: land monopoly. He hoped as well that it might be
the lever needed to start a 'nonviolent revolution' — a complete transformation of Indian society by
The root of oppression, he reasoned, is greed. If people could be led to overcome their possessiveness, a
climate would be created in which social division and exploitation could be eliminated. As he later put it,
“We do not aim at doing mere acts of kindness, but at creating a Kingdom of Kindness.”
Soon Vinoba and his colleagues were collecting 1,000 acres a day, then 2,000, then 3,000. Varios
hundred small teams of Sarvodaya workers and volunteers began trekking from village to village, all over
India, collecting land in Vinoba's name. Vinoba himself — despite advanced age and poor health —
marched continually, touring one state after another.
The pattern of Vinoba's day was daily the same. Vinoba and his company would rise by 3:00 am and hold
a prayer meeting for themselves. Then they would walk ten or twelve miles to the next village, Vinoba
leading at a pace that left the others struggling breathlessly behind. With him were always a few close
assistants, a bevy of young, idealistic volunteers — teenagers and young adults, male and some female,
mostly from towns or cities — plus maybe some regular Sarvodaya workers, a landlord, a politician, or an
At the host village they would be greeted by a brass band, a makeshift archway, garlands, formal
welcomes by village leaders, and shouts of “Sant Vinoba, Sant Vinoba!” (“Saint Vinoba!”) After breakfast,
the Bhoodan workers would fan out through the village, meeting the villagers, distributing literature, and
taking pledges. Vinoba himself would be settled apart, meeting with visitors, reading newspapers, and
In late afternoon, there would be a prayer meeting, attended by hundreds or thousands of villagers from
de la zona. After a period of reciting and chanting, Vinoba would speak to the crowd in his quiet, high-
pitched voice. His talk would be completely improvised, full of rich images drawn from Hindu scripture or
everyday life, exhorting the villagers to lives of love, kinship, sharing. At the close of the meeting, more
pledges would be taken. There were no free weekends on this itinerary, no holidays, no days off. El hombre
who led this relentless crusade was 57 years old, suffered from chronic dysentery, chronic malaria, an
intestinal ulcer, and restricted himself, because of his ulcer, to a diet of honey, milk, and yogurt.
By the time of the 1954 Sarvodaya conference, the Gandhians had collected over three million acres
en todo el país. The total eventually reached over four million. Much of this land turned out to be useless, and
in many cases landowners reneged on their pledges. Still, the Gandhians were able to distribute over one
million acres to India's landless poor — far more than had been managed by the land reform programs of
India's government. About half a million families benefited.
Meanwhile, Vinoba was shifting his efforts to a new gear — a higher one. After 1954, Vinoba began asking
for donations' not so much of land but of whole villages. He named this new program Gramdan — 'village-gift'.
Gramdan was a far more radical program than Bhoodan. In a Gramdan village, all land was to be legally
owned by the village as a whole, but parceled out for the use of individual families, according to need.
Because the families could not themselves sell, rent, or mortgage the land, they could not be pressured off
it during hard times — as normally happens when land reform programs bestow land title on poor individuals.
Village affairs were to be managed by a village council made up of all adult members of the village, making
decisions by consensus — meaning the council could not adopt any decision until everyone accepted it.
This was meant to ensure cooperation and make it much harder for one person or group to benefit at the
expense of others.
While Bhoodan had been meant to prepare people for a nonviolent revolution, Vinoba saw Gramdan as the
revolution itself. Like Gandhi, Vinoba believed that the divisiveness of Indian society was a root cause of
its degradation and stagnation. Before the villagers could begin to improve their lot, they needed to learn
to work together. Gramdan, he felt, with its common land ownership and cooperative decision-making,
could bring about the needed unity. And once this was achieved, the 'people's power' it would release
would make anything possible. Vinoba's Gramdan efforts progressed slowly until 1965, when an easing of
Gramdan's requirements was joined to the launching of a 'storm campaign'. By 1970, the official figure for
Gramdan villages was 160,000 — almost one-third of all India's villages!
But it turned out that it was far easier to get a declaration of Gramdan than to set it up in practice. Por
early 1970, only a few thousand villages had transferred land title to a village council. In most of these,
progress was at a standstill. What's more, most of these few thousand villages were small, single-caste,
or tribal — not typical Indian villages. By 1971, Gramdan as a movement had collapsed under its own weight.
Still, the Gramdan movement left behind more than a hundred Gramdan 'pockets' — some made up of
hundreds of villages — where Gandhian workers settled in for long-term development efforts. Estos
pockets today form the base of India's Gandhian movement. In these locales, the Gandhians are helping
some of India's poorest by organizing Gandhian-style community development and nonviolent action
campaigns against injustice.
“Scientists who use advanced imaging technology to study brain function report
that the human brain is wired to reward caring, cooperation, and service. According
to this research, merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers
the same reaction in our brain as when a mother sees distress in her baby's face.
Conversely, the act of helping another triggers the brain's pleasure center and
benefits our health by boosting our immune system, reducing our heart rate, and
preparing us to approach and soothe. Positive emotions like compassion produce
similar benefits. By contrast, negative emotions suppress our immune system,
increase heart rate, and prepare us to fight or flee.
These findings are consistent with the pleasure most of us experience from being
a member of an effective team or extending an uncompensated helping hand to
another human. It is entirely logical. If our brains were not wired for life in
community, our species would have expired long ago. We have an instinctual desire
to protect the group, including its weakest and most vulnerable members — its
los niños. Behavior contrary to this positive norm is an indicator of serious social and
- David Korten
“We Are Hard-Wired to Care and Connect”
¡SÍ! magazine, Issue 47, Fall 2008
I am afflicted with a trait which I suppose is common, yet I feel peculiar. Even though I like receiving
gifts, I find myself feeling awkward accepting them. I suppose at the core is an assumption that the
process of gift-giving will raise good feelings about me in the receiver's heart and mind. I tried to evaluate
this reason and found that there may be some shades of truth in it, but it is not so straight and simple.
Giving involves thinking about the other person, understanding their universe and their wishes. It shifts
our focus from 'us' to 'them', and as it does, it unwittingly bridges the gap between the two with
naturalness and warmth. Gifting is that precious means by which entry into other's soul is possible.
But in today's consumer-driven life, gifts too have become 'plastic-coated'; we have become dependent
on the market to fulfil our wish of giving. And the wide range of available products dazzles us to
temporarily forget the reasons for giving. The focus shifts to the product rather than the person. En el
end, the receiver is inundated with 'gifts', which have no relation to his/her needs at that moment. La
market has also unconsciously slipped in the notion of 'price tag'. The value of how much it costs has
replaced the value of feelings associated with the act of giving. A costly tag means the gift is valuable.
I have had both kinds of experiences — receiving gifts which do not mean anything and choosing ones to
complete the formality.
In the face of this artificiality, my family and the organisations that I was working with tried something
diferente. We decided to make things with our own hands instead of buying them from the market. Este
made a lot of difference. The act of creating immediately connects us to our inner world and, at the same
time, links us to whom we are making the gift for. Creating something with our own hands requires time,
which challenges the market's desire to make us passive consumers. Though my output wasn'ta grand
design, it involved my complete attention, and I reckoned it would please the receiver, a colleague in the
la oficina. It definitely did, and I felt elated.
Since this has been on my mind and is a symbolic resistance to the growing domination of the consumer
world on our lives, I am constantly thinking of situations where it could be applied. Recently, in one of the
colleges where I am a guest faculty, I tried it with students who had passed their second year design
examen. I told them that there could be another way of celebrating. As opposed to buying pedhas
(sweets made from milk), I invited them to try their hand at making home-made dishes to bring to college.
I was surprised the following day when I was invited to their class to join in the revelry. No se
literally a lavish spread on the table. Everyone had made something with their own hands. The boys too
surprised their mates by bringing a variety of delicacies. The joy was palpable and the sharing boisterous.
Most of them revealed that they enjoyed making the dish for their friends and eating together was like
icing on the cake. Later, the students got together and decided to contribute making their campus green
by planting trees. One idea had birthed another, and the process of reflecting on what they could do
together had begun.
At Abhivyakti, we tried to usher in the gift-culture in our annual meet, a space where the entire team is
involved in review and planning. We invited the members to bring one precious item which could be gifted
to someone who needed it. In the evening time, in a circle, members displayed what they had got and
each one spoke about what it meant to them. The gifts were exhibited, and the team members went
around looking at it. The next invitation was to choose the gift that was on display and offer something
in return as exchange. The condition of 'return' gift was that it was not to be of material variety but
something the person could do, like a massage or offer to cook a meal. The exchange was about moving
beyond the culture of money and reclaiming what we as human possessed within. When the offer of
return gift was done, the owner of the gift would decide whom to give the gift and reasons behind it.
For instance, I had a watch which was very dear to me, but I wasn't using it. I got many offers from my
colleagues – massage, poetry reading, my favourite dish, and embroidered-handkerchief – and I had
difficult time in choosing. But when I announced the worthy recipient of the watch, my decision was
more emotional than transactional. The watch went to the person whom I felt would give my gift the
same kind of love and attention that I did.
The atmosphere of this gift-culture and exchange was emotional and heavy. Each person had become
vulnerable in the bonding that had happened, and the love they experienced in giving and receiving. Cada
member got something along with a valuable lesson. Not everything that one wanted became available.
It was dependent on many factors: what you were offering as an exchange, your relationship, your
behaviour and many other small things that we don't often notice. The gifts had become more than the
commodities that they once were. The chance for members to speak about their personal belongings,
listen to what 'precious' meant to others and the surprise and joy on the faces of each member, made the
occasion special and memorable.
Each year, the door to each others' hearts has widened through the means of gift exchange, and the
culture in our organisation has become intimate and unique. We have taken a small step to move away
from our dependence on the global market and its ready-made world.
The question of why I feel awkward when receiving gifts might be related to the fact that I don't like to
be seen as vulnerable. Being at the receiving end of someone's generosity is definitely one such moment!
I think it's time to change. Being vulnerable in front of others is an invitation to share a private moment.
I realise the tremendous power of the gift culture. Creating a space of intimacy not only deepens our
community bond, but also helps us to discover our inner worlds and to transform ourselves!
“We have learned much from the native Americans, the Australian Aboriginals,
the indigenous people of India (adivasis) and the Bushmen of Africa. Hemos
been guided by Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Mohammed and Mahavir. Hemos
been inspired by Valmiki, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Jane Austen and many other
writers. We have benefited from the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa
and Martin Luther King. They were not motivated by fame, fortune or power.
Buddha claimed no copyright on his teachings, and Shakespeare received no
royalty cheques. We have been enchanted by music, paintings, architecture and
crafts of many cultures, from time immemorial. We have received a treasure
house of traditions as a free gift.
In return we offer our work, our creativity, our arts and crafts, our agriculture
and architecture as gifts to society — to present and future generations. Cuando
we are motivated by this spirit then work is not a burden. It is not a duty. Es
not a responsibility. We are not even the doers of our work. Work flows through
us and not from us. We do not own our intellect, our creativity, or our skills. Nosotros
have received them as a gift and grace. We pass them on as a gift and grace; it
is like a river which keeps flowing. All the tributaries make the river great. Nosotros
are the tributaries adding to the great river of time and culture; the river of
la humanidad. If tributaries stop flowing into the river, if they become individualistic
and egotistical, if they put terms and conditions before they join the rivers, they
will dry and the rivers will dry to. To keep the rivers flowing all tributaries have
to join in with joy and without conditions. In the same way, all individual arts,
crafts and other creative activities make up the river of humanity. We need not
hold back, we need not block the flow. This is unconditional union. Este es el
great principle of dana. This is how society and civilizations are replenished...
When we write a poem we make a gift. When we paint a picture or build a
beautiful house we make a gift. When we grow flowers and cook food we make
a gift. When all these activities are performed as sacred acts, they nourish
de la sociedad. When we are unselfconscious, unacquisitive, and act without desire for
recognition or reward, when our work emerges from a pure heart like that of a
child, our actions become a gift, dana…”
- Satish Kumar
You Are, Therefore I Am, 2002
Many of the other pieces in this publication speak eloquently and thoroughly of the relationships between
gift culture and the emergence of a transformed ecosystem of human relations. In this essay, we wish to
build upon this very premise, that we are hardwired as biological creatures to work together and that we
derive greater satisfaction from giving of ourselves rather than hoarding and guarding. The question thus
becomes: how to do this in a way that is most public, drastic, viral and effective?
The City Repair Project, in Portland, OR, actively spreads a lived, universally accessible experience of gift
culture by facilitating the creation of spaces for free and reciprocal exchange in the public sphere. En
the heart of City Repair's work lies the idea of Placemaking, a concept maybe best framed by a short
description of its opposite. We here in the United States live lives steeped in the principles of domination,
anonymity and impartial exchange characteristic of capitalist society. Born into houses our families did
not build (and often cannot afford to own), witness to geographies resulting from homogenous design,
and disconnected from the sheer diversity of the natural world by way of living in grids within grids, we
are not often given opportunities to put down roots in a way that cries to the world: WE LIVE, HERE AND
Placemaking is a multi-layered process within which citizens foster active, engaged relationships to the
spaces which they inhabit, the landscapes of their lives, and shape those spaces in a way which creates
a sense of communal stewardship and lived connection to the commons. This is most often accomplished
through a creative reclamation of public space: projects which take the form of benches on street
corners where neighbors can sit, rest and talk with each other, kiosks on sidewalks where neighbors can
post information about local events, needs and resources, public 'free bins' where folks can discard their
IVING AND THE
Maralena Murphy and Jenny Leis
extraneous goods and know that someone else in need will receive the gift freely, and street paintings in
the public right-of-way that demonstrate to all who pass through that this is a Place: inhabited, known
and loved by its residents.
In all instances, these projects are undertaken by local communities who come together to discuss what
it is they want in their neighborhood — what elements are lacking in the public sphere and how the
community can work together with the resources they have to create their own Garden of Eden in the
very place where they now live. In this way, City Repair's work necessitates of its participants that they
give gifts – of time, resources, energy, commitment and care. And it is through the giving of these gifts
that the work of repairing the social and physical fabric of the city is accomplished. Citizens learn how to
grow ecosystems of reciprocal exchange through depending on living, breathing interactions with known
people and places, rather than on the vast screening, impersonal abstractions of money-exchanges and
The crucial point here is the way in which these neighborhood projects actively spread a lived experience
of gift culture, even to those who took no part in the project's creation. It is unfortunate for you, reader,
that right now you are encountering City Repair's work through verbal description. What you need in
order to understand the experience of those who move through repaired spaces is the visual representation:
a beautiful painting, or earthen bench, or bulletin board mosaic. These projects, which slow traffic and
create living detail and beauty no civil engineering firm could match, provide a physical space so obviously
alternative to the dominant paradigm of the amorphous, impersonal 'public' that people cannot help but
stop and wonder, “Ooh, what is this?”
This spark of interest and curiosity is the hook which draws our unsuspecting citizen into the web of gift
culture: suddenly they are copying down the phone number of a local babysitter from a flyer in a kiosk, or
find themselves sitting on a bench next to a neighbor who's grown so much zucchini she's giving bags of
it away, or pulling out a small journal and pen from the 'communication station' and describing sweet
memory from childhood, a story that will live now in the public pages to be witnessed and enjoyed by the
hundreds of other people who will pass that way, stand in that very spot, and reach in and pull out the
same small spiral notebook.
These projects' existence in the public sphere allow for the gift to keep on giving, if we may be so bold.
In the context of the evident necessity for a species-wide transition from one globalized market economy
to many localized, interwoven gift economies, City Repair's projects build feedback loops which reinforce
the ability of people to give of themselves. It is not only that gifts grow relationships by creating flavor
and texture, memory and presence in the connection between maker and user, giver and receiver. It’s
that living inside those relationships enables us more and more to give of ourselves, as we build trust and
understanding through shared experience and collective action. And it's these relationships, the trust
between people, that founds cultures of respectful sharing, that can fuel movements and restructure
In the pre-dawn DC darkness of chilly February
2008, I thought that the cab I had just hailed
was driven by a fellow Indian.
“Where are you from?” he asked in the familiarly
courteous tone of fellow Indians seeking some
tiny connection so far from home.
His tone of voice and questioning clearly
suggested that he already knew the answer to
“With this big bindi on my forehead … ? Donde
else can I be from but from India! You, too?” I
asked in turn.
“No, I am from Pakistan,” he answered quietly.
“I am too … in a way…. My parents and
grandparents … my aunts and uncles …. Somos
Punjabis. All my ancestors were born and raised
in Lahore, Pind Dadan Khan, Rawalpindi. Ellos fueron
forced to leave their homes… their neighbors and
friends when they fled their Punjab for India when
our land was torn by The Partition.
From speaking of our past…our ancestors, we
moved to the present. I asked him what it was
like to be a Washington, DC taxi driver.
Unwittingly, I opened up a hornets nest. Dolor
poured out as he shared the horrors he suffered
– as a Muslim – after 9/11. He announced he
could take no more the humiliation and harassment
all Muslim taxi drivers daily continue to enduresince
that horrible day.
“The cops and George Bush are the real terrorists.
Daily, after 9/11, they have been systematically
terrorizing Muslim cab drivers working in DC. Es
unbearable. I can take it no longer. A pesar de la
life and community I have created here for the
Madhu Suri Prakash
past two decades since my brother sponsored
me, I am returning to Pakistan.”
“What will you do there?
“First, regain some dignity. Our loss of dignity
here is unbearable. …..”
Tongue tied by the intensity of his pain, at first I
knew not what words could offer him comfort,
could ease this stranger's pain.
“Forgive…” I urged. “You can still make a good
life here… Please do forgive those who humiliate
and harass you, who give you grief. They know
Aching with his Muslim Ache, I sensed an immediate
surprising sadness speaking with this stranger.
Struggling for some words of peace and
forgiveness, I could only muster:
“Too bad politicians divided our two lands and
turned us into each other's enemies. … Whenever
I meet Pakistanis, I cannot help but feel that we
really belong together … just as our ancestors
did …. Our food, language, music, clothes …. Todos
unite us despite being Hindus and Muslims. Cada
time I meet Pakistanis, we find ourselves wishing
we were still together; not separated by artificial
national boundaries; not friends-turned-into-
For a few minutes, we rode in silence.
Still fumbling for words that might be a balm to
his rage, I stuttered:
“We belong together … all of us… to each other…”
He did not respond, just remained completely
en silencio. Suddenly, he stopped his cab. I glanced
outside and saw that his pain and silence had
driven him to the wrong destination. His story,
charged with such intense emotion, had brought
him to the train station instead of Greyhound.
Gently, I reminded him that I needed to be at the
Greyhound station. He paused; took stock;
apologized for his mistake; and in a few swift
minutes in his taxi, had flown me to the right
su lugar. More apologies he offered for his error.
Stepping out and collecting my bag, I asked him
the amount of the fare.
“I do not charge my sister.”
He stood before the money extended in my hand,
his hands by his side, mute.
Seeing my confusion in this shift from the money
economy, he asked shyly for a gift:
“Give me only one dollar for luck. A lucky dollar
auspiciously starting a new day.”
One symbolic dollar [ boni ] exchanged our hands.
A token… A gift for the new day unfolding.
Shyly, I put back the rest of the money in my
Wordlessly, we embraced. Never to meet again,
this stranger and me.
Emptied of words for now, he drove away in a
warm silence, our quietened hearts beating to
the slow rhythms of our shared humanity.
this one life is a great gift for me and for you
your cells that reproduce your life is a miracle of the universe
the womb that nurtured your soul into humanness
has not charged you a price for its service
the soil, the sea, the sky, the sun
fed you, washed you, warmed you in abundance
for no return.
what are you doing with this gift called your life?
what if you lived this one life as it were a gift from God, Universe, Pacha Mama, you
what if you took every breath with tender consciousness and gratitude,
…where your life came from.
what if you lived your one life in service of all life?
in service of your brother and sister, in service of the soil and the tree,
in service of the bird and the fish…this one time!
what if your life that is a gift becomes a gift to life?
- Filiz Telek, Turkey
The Peoples' Institute for
Rethinking Education and Development
Shikshantar, a Jeevan Andolan (life movement), was founded to challenge the culture of schooling and institutions of
thought-control.Today, factory-schooling and literacy programs are suppressing many diverse forms of human learning
and expression, as well as much-needed organic processes towards just and harmonious social regeneration. En el
spirit of Vimukt Shiksha, we are committed to creating spaces where individuals and communities can together engage
in dialogue to: (1) generate meaningful critiques to expose and dismantle/transform existing models of Education,
Development and Progress; (2) reclaim control over their own learning processes and learning ecologies; and (3)
imagine (and continually re-imagine) their own complex shared visions and practices of Swaraj.
Shikshantar is based in Udaipur (Rajasthan, India). Our core team works in collaboration with local and trans-local
partners through dynamic processes of participatory conceptualization. To learn more about our efforts, please
contact us at:
83 Adinath Nagar, Udaipur 313004 Rajasthan India
Tel: +91 (294) 245-1303
We welcome and encourage your questions, suggestions and support.
Texto original en inglés:
Bronislaw Malinowski, Claude Levi-Straus, Marcel Mauss, Marshall Sahlins and other anthropologists have
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