Article — January 17, 2018 — language, trust
For the last four years, I’ve actively experimented with gifts, in various ways, walking with a question I’ve had for much longer: how can we free ourselves of fear around money?
I felt this year I learned enough to actually see positive results, on a reliable basis, when I practice asking, offering, giving and receiving gifts according to certain principles.
After reading this article, you will exchange energy as naturally as an electron. It may be some time after, though. (source) I believe I’m learning something about nature; the principles I follow are the best approximation I have, right now, to what I see as universal laws of life. I found them by studying sources like Sacred Economics and the Wheel of Consent, and through trial and error.
It’s this type of study and practice that I refer to when I use the term “gift economics”. It applies in any exchange between two or more living beings: anywhere something is being given or received, whether it’s money, power, touch, or care.
I’ll do my best to write what I know about gift economics, and only what I know. In this article, I will only share theories I’ve personally proven through experience. That said, I do not yet consider myself an expert. I expect I will look back on this a year from now, and laugh at how ignorant I was.
Slowness is a sign of bigness. The greater the river, the slower the flow. (source) What I know, if I know nothing else, is that a gift exchange works best when it’s slow. There needs to be enough time for the heart to follow what’s happening, and most of us are so deeply acculturated to market economics that being offered a gift comes as a shock in itself.
A friend once asked me for a loan of 500 euros. I refused, and offered a gift of 500 euros instead. My friend broke immediately into tears, and said, with a cracking voice, “Why can’t you just give me a loan?!”
It’s okay. Don’t panic. It’s just an offer. (source) The only way a gift exchange works is when there is enough space and time for these kinds of emotions to emerge, be felt, and resolve. In this case it was a couple weeks, with no contact between us, before my friend accepted my offer.
It helps to be absolutely clear, in my thoughts as well as my language, about whether I’m asking for, offering, being asked for, or being offered a gift.
Sometimes I hear people ask, “Do you want to?”, and I always cringe. It feels like it’s been a very long time since I used that phrase, but I clearly remember the confusion that tends to follow it. All too often, it is a disguise for what we would say if we were speaking the simple truth: “I want to. Will you?”
It’s been a while since I watched television. I’m perfectly willing to. I just haven’t wanted to. (source) When I’m asked, “Do you want to see a movie?”, I check with myself: do I actually want that? Generally the answer is no, no matter what the question is about, for the simple reason that there is a large number of things I might want at any given moment, and a correspondingly small chance that someone randomly asks me if I want exactly what I want right now.
On the other hand, when I’m asked, “I want to watch a movie. Will you watch with me?”, I don’t check whether I want to watch a movie. I check whether I’m willing to watch a movie, in service to what my friend wants. When I check that, usually I find I’m not only willing, but actually happy to watch a movie, even though I don’t want to.
I think those of us who deeply learned about consent understood the importance of it. However, I think they still would have been surprised that going sufficiently far with the idea eventually provides access to unlimited material wealth. (source) I assume we are all naturally generous, and love to give gifts to each other: if we don’t have a reason to say no, then we say YES, instantly and with passion. I can’t prove that’s true, but I find it useful to assume that it is.
What we feel during a gift exchange is of paramount importance. What we think only matters insofar as it affects what we feel. There is a right answer for every offer and every request, and finding that answer reliably requires high consciousness of what all involved are feeling.
For this reason, in every exchange, I’m constantly asking myself: what do I feel right now? I aim to put no effort into describing the feeling in my thoughts. I just let myself feel it, and categorize it roughly as a yes or a no.
No flip flops. (source) I always say yes when I feel yes, and I always say no when I feel no. I am absolutely strict about this. I never say “maybe”, and I don’t accept it as an answer when others say “maybe” to me. I just take it to mean the answer isn’t clear yet. When the answer seems to be “maybe”, whether it’s a “maybe” inside me or not, I ask questions and I listen to the answers until the “maybe” becomes a yes or a no.
Hey! No flip flops! (source) I do accept a “yes, if” or a “no, unless”. I’ve found those answers to be less common than a simple yes or no, in practice, but I consider them true answers nonetheless, and I actively look for them when the answer isn’t clear.
Conditional answers, like “yes, if” and “no, unless”, require finer discernment. To be successful, a gift exchange doesn’t need to be unconditional. It only needs to be free and loving.
It’s a purely hypothetical example. I have no car. I would let you drive it if I did, though. (source) Consider these two offers, as an example:
“I’ll let you drive my car if you pay my rent.”
“I’ll let you drive my car if you keep it clean.”
You can practice with these, by imagining yourself in a situation where a friend of yours would say these words to you, and checking, while you imagine, whether you feel yes or no. Once you’re able to do that, it’s interesting to explore the reasons why.
As I gained understanding about why we feel what we feel, it became easier and easier to craft offers and requests that are met with a yes.
If you’re like me, you will be far more likely to feel yes to the second offer than to the first one. Why?
As a rule of thumb, I don’t ask for anything in return, and I don’t offer anything in return. I aim for longer cycles of flow, not the stuttering back-and-forth of a nervous couple. (source) In the first offer, what’s really at stake is two exchanges, not one: one exchange of access to a car, and one exchange of money for rent. The second offer only calls for one exchange: access to the car.
The difference is that the second offer is for less access than in the first offer. You aren’t being offered complete freedom; you have to keep it clean. The two offers might be equally desirable, but only because the first offer is for one desirable exchange and one undesirable exchange, bundled together, whereas the second offer is for just one less-desirable exchange.
I find it works best to deal in single exchanges only. Disentangling these things is a skill; I’ve improved at it over time.
We evolved in such a way that, for most of us, the simple experience of touch is pleasurable. How come? (source) It’s a bit like learning a game.
In this game, there is no winning or losing. The question is whether it’s fun or not. It’s an important question, because we must play this game in order to live in this world. We have no choice in the matter. As long as we live, we play.
We can easily tell when we’re playing poorly, because we feel trapped, hunted or hurt. When we’re playing well, we feel joy, gratitude, pleasure, and endless other sensations that we developed sensitivity for in the course of our evolution.
We are good at this game. Our whole being is honed for it. We have been playing it for billions of years, and improving at it all the time.
I like this game.