“Gifts have the function of bonding communities together.” — Charles Eisenstein
I’ve been part of the gift economy even before coming to Peru because of my natural urge to give others at least equal or more to express gratitude. To Eisenstein, this gift giving creates bonds (obligations, even) as opposed to the money economy that promotes isolation. Community disappears in a money economy because financial transactions offer you the luxury of not needing anyone anymore.
I forget how I discovered Eisenstein’s online book “Ascent to Humanity” a while back. But I’ll always remember his description of the book and the reason he makes it accessible for free: because he feels strongly that everyone should read it. More recently, a good friend and blogger Giulietta Nardone introduced me to Eisenstein’s short film:
The comparison between the money economy and Eisenstein’s gift economy parallels how I describe the difference between living in Vancouver and Peru. What is it like to live in Vancouver? I always describe how Vancouver is beautiful and filled with nature but that people are more isolated (lonely?) than in Peru. I don’t know the neighbors beyond my block and when I say “Hi” to people in my neighborhood, many don’t respond.By contrast, Peruvians in Huancayo are all about giving:
- Most receive a Christmas bonus from their jobs
- The lady at the bakery a block away offered to let me use her fridge to store my milk
- Por favor (“please” in Spanish) refers to doing something as a favor
- Strangers feel a responsibility to raise, teach, and discipline your child
- Women breastfeed each others’ children
- Friends are always lending each other money
- Customers often get a “yapa” (a little extra something for free)
- Purchasing often involves negotiating in which the seller gives you a discount
This environment blends well with how I was brought up. My parents raised me in a household with a culture of sharing and giving. I have a strong sense of gratitude. Paying back a debt of any form and recognizing others for playing a role in my life are very important to me.
I’d just like to leave you with a last piece of food for thought. In one of his videos, Eisenstein asks: “Do you know why Americans are so fat? It’s because they’re hungry for connection.” He attributes addictions such as eating and television to lack of community as reactions that fill our need for real relationships.
Are you part of the gift economy? Why or why not? Do you think transitioning to a gift economy is necessary as Eisenstein believes?