I wrote the first draft of this post about 5 years ago when I started my very first real business (where I was actually trying to make money rather than simply create a cultural millieu, or large scale art installation).
I grew up pretty poor – at least by American standards. Before the age of 12, I had bought new clothes a total of twice in my life, though there was always abundance at the Goodwill. My mother had me when she was 21 without the support of her family or my father whom I have never met. She had no mother’s helper or child support and she was too proud to receive welfare. Most of my life she worked 2 jobs and was not home a lot. When she was home she was usually collapsed on the couch by 6pm.
5 years ago when I first wrote up the plan I am going to share with you today for offering my services to the world for gifts, I was too afraid to actually post it. You see my business mentor at the time was adamantly opposed to sliding scale or any other pay what you can reciprocal structure.
It’s an unfair exchange. People only value what they pay for. You’ll always be poor. The reasons go on and on….
I have spent the last 5 years building a business that supports me and my family. I am close to being able to send my mother money each month and offer her the retirement she deserves (she is still working full-time at 67 and I am proud of her for that, but I also want her to know rest). I am close to being able to make monthly payments on my massive student loan debt for my blessed MA in philosophy. Yes, I have just about arrived.
I still have $100,000 in student loans to repay. I been to the dentist twice in the last 10 years. My family qualifies for the state’s free healthcare program. My family qualifies for Food Stamps. My family has one $1,500 car. I will not receive an inheritance and we have no investments – other than real estate (this is the one factor that has changed my relative position, but these assets are not liquid and we do not qualify for lines of credit etc.). One day we will sell them though and knowing this is no small thing) Compared to how poor I used to be I am doing well. I am doing well enough.
I recently interviewed Lisa Rohleder, the passionate and humble inspiration behind the Community Acupuncture movement (the calmest revolution ever staged) and was reminded yet again of my responsibility to myself to take my middle class wealth back to my community – to people like me, who have seen the wrong side of the tracks, who deserve the best of the world and who are not receiving their fair share.
So here I am dredging up my all but forgotten and discarded write-up for My Dream Rates where I do my best to ask the world (at least this small corner of it) to help me in remembering, reclaiming and recovering the ancient gift economy in modern America.
We were called at least once every seven days, and for every healthy baby, we were rewarded with jewelry, amulets, fine linen, or jars of oil. ~Anita Diamant, The Red Tent
In traditional systems of reciprocity and payment, the seeker brings an offering and the healer responds with her teaching. Communities support their healers even when they do not need their work. This occurs within a culture where people embody the value of sacrifice in the journey of living and are in tune with the rhythm of the village and its inhabitants. They also understand the deep principle of oneness, that no one succeeds or fails alone.
“We must carry each other. If we don’t have this what are we? ~ Anne Michaels”
We live in a culture where everything has a price tag. We rarely have the opportunity, or the responsibility, to contemplate what we are actually giving to someone in exchange for what we are receiving.
We look outside ourselves to figure out how much to value things, ourselves, our work and the work of others. We think it absurd to pay someone “too much” or to get paid “too little.” We measure our worth on how much we can charge for our work and by how much money we have to spend.
We live in a culture where people with the least means are the most generous. We live in a culture of entitlement where people with resources and privilege are the first to ask for a discount or a scholarship and who would rather give to a charity (for a tax break) than to an individual in need. We live in a dominant global culture where economic lines run along racial ones and where everyone is looking for a deal.
What if we were to slow down and try a different way. The way of the gift.
Gifting means that you carefully consider what you feel moved to bring. You offer it at the time you are moved to bring it. This is sometimes well after our work together has come to a close, after you begin to witness the movements of your being in response to process, and are inspired to make an offering or donation. Sometimes, it happens before we’ve even done work together and sometimes knowing that we never will and that someone else will benefit from your generosity. Sometimes it takes place over time and sometimes it is a one time offering.
It means you ask yourself this question, “What can I safely and with integrity offer.”
This means that if you haven’t been able to afford the dentist in 10 years, I don’t want your money. I want you to use it to go to the dentist. I want to support you and your lineage to finally embrace your fair share.
This also means that if you grew up with enough, or a lot, you take the time to be grateful for what you have and to share it. There just isn’t any more time left to hold on.
Our economy can no longer grow.
It is aching to FLOW.
How do you survive if you give your work away?
My services are not FREE. I ask that each person make an offer of some sort at some time.
Don’t you end up with a big heap of junk you don’t want or need?
Pretty much everything I receive has been offered with care and deep presence. It is a beautiful heap of medicine. Sometimes I sell or give away things I receive. Do not be offended.
What if you don’t like what I give you?
If you find yourself worrying about whether or not I’ll like your gift, please take that as a sign that the right gift hasn’t occurred to you yet. Take a step back and sit with it a little longer.
What if I have nothing of real value to give?
Remember value is more than cash value, and you might be rushing the process. Take some time until you really get an inspiration, until you know just the thing.
I don’t feel very creative right now and wonder if it’s ok to just give you money?
Fine with me. I need money and many people I work with give me monetary gifts.
Have you tried it? Do you have ideas for making this work? Let me know.