November – Experiences in the Gift Economy
By Laura Matsue
There was definitely some discomfort at our Charles Eisenstein event last month as we left a donation box for both OUR Ecovillage and Eisenstein. People walked out feeling “uncomfortable” for not donating and most people didn’t understand why they would donate to the village when they came to see Charles Eisenstein (not realizing the village was not earning anything from the event and the venue, set up, and workers were all working on purely in a gift economy).
Charles Eisenstein was one of the first opportunities that we had to experiment with the “Gift Economy” with a speaker, but when reflecting back there are lots of experiences within the ecovillage that operate on a gift economy when living “village”. Many people don’t know that the majority of the people who help the village run every month are essentially volunteering themselves to the village, and there are very few people on staff here. In “return” for this, many of these workers gain the experience of learning organic farming, permaculture, natural building and as assortment of other workshops we have here, as well as just the overall community and intentional living experience of “living in an ecovillage”, so essentially; much of the structure of the village is in a “gift economy” without expressing it as such.
Some people don’t see this exchange and can only see what they’re “giving”, which really brings question to: what do you value?
There are lots of times where people feel that “emotional support” should be free, and are unwilling to pay a therapist, or that if a service in spiritual in nature it also should be free. Similarly, people who come here who don’t value or can’t perceive the “learning experience” of living in an ecovillage may come here and feel like they are just “working for free”, only seeing value as being related to the amount of money that they receive in return for work.
Of course, we still have to pay teachers, buy supplies, and keep the lights on at the Ecovillage, so not everything can operate purely in a “gift economy”. Many people also hold the belief that the more something costs, the more valuable it is, and may not even see the value in anything that is seen as being “free”.
But what I feel it really comes down to is this: how do you perceive the world? One with gratitude for the abundance around you or one where you see only the lack? A finite world where everything is limited and has a price tag on it or an infinite one with hidden gifts available to you everywhere?
What are the gifts in life that we get everyday that we couldn’t put a price tag on?