This is a path to true prosperity without any gimmicks or solar panels or fancy technology. It is the path that our ancestors relied upon and it is the path that most indigenous societies use today. We cut out the middlemen (banks, financiers and government) and deal directly with each other to fulfill our needs.
The only trouble is that generosity requires a leap of faith. With the other person reciprocate? Will I be seen as a sucker? Will people laugh at me? And the inner dialog of objections continue…until you realize that you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.
Silas Hagerty is a gift economy filmmaker in Kezar Falls, Maine. His most recent work is Dakota 38, the moving story of the largest mass execution in US history – - that of 38 Lakota Indians in 1862. He spent years doing the film and had no hesitation in essentially giving it to the Native American community when it was done. It was a natural part of his evolution in doing gift economy projects over many years.
After graduating from film school, Silas was looking for the rungs on the ladder of a conventional film career but began to see his passion for filmmaking could be a gift to be put in the service of others. The shift was powerful. Here’s how Silas explains the change in the way he thought and acted: “If I come into the room and am basically asking ‘how can you help?’ it creates a certain kind of energy. What I challenged myself to do was to walk into every encounter and instead ask, ‘what can I do for you? It’s a completely different energy. That basic structure started to change in me.”
This shift from a “me” to “you” – how can I serve you rather than how can you help me – is radical in today’s context, but really nothing terribly new. Anthropologists remind us that a communal sense has deeper roots than does our modern self-centric, individualistic social structures…
ServiceSpace.org has been working in the “pay it forward” arena for more than ten years. Its Karma Kitchen, for instance, has operated in Berkeley, California for several years on a model where patrons are charged nothing, but are told their meal was paid for by the generosity of the person who came before them. They are asked to contribute in order to keep this experiment going. And it not only has kept going for several years, but has inspired similar restaurants in Chicago and Washington DC. The gift economy model here is something like a large circle spooling forward. Though patrons don’t know each other, their mutual generosity is essential to keeping the restaurant alive. They, in a sense, are paying each other and learning that generosity does indeed beget generosity. This builds trust that ripples outward, a trust in generosity that does not remain within the confines of the restaurant. The collateral good here is incalculable.