As a psychologist, I'm always searching for ways to help people improve themselves. I recently read about some areas in the world where a “Gift Economy” is practiced. The principle behind a gift economy is to ensure that all people within your community have their basic needs met regardless of ability to pay. People are gifted what they need and are not expected to reciprocate in kind to the giver.
The idea of a “gift economy” got me thinking---imagine if we all began to nurture a “gift mentality” in our children and ourselves. I'd like to explore this idea as a way for each of us to improve the meaning in our lives, the quality of life for others and our community's sense of worth and well-being.
Maybe you remember the phrase, “Pay it Forward,” from a popular movie a few years ago. This idea of paying it forward is a key concept in understanding how to develop a gift mentality in yourself and in your family. If you have the good fortune of receiving something that you need or want as a gift, then it is important to “pay the kindness forward” in the future to someone else in need. This is in contrast to “paying back” the person who gifted you. In fact, that person may not need anything from you and there is no expectation or obligation to respond in kind to the giver. Instead, the only expectation of a “gift mentality” is to make sure you become aware of the needs of others and provide what you can, when you can for someone else.
For instance, imagine a family who has a spring garden that produces a larger crop of vegetables than their family can eat. If this family sees another neighbor who has recently lost their job, they would share their abundance with them with no expectation of reciprocity. Let's imagine that this receiving family, while short on money and food, has a family member who is a skilled carpenter. The carpenter would resolve to help another person or family, perhaps by repairing a damaged roof, fixing a wheel chair ramp, etc.
When an entire community embraces this idea, there is a synergy that evolves with someone always helping to meet the needs of another community member. This eventually ensures that our entire community is being provided for by each other. It is a mutually respectful approach that eliminates shame that is sometimes associated with receiving something for free. With a gift mentality, the receiver has no shame, for s/he knows that someone will be in need of his/her services/help at some point in the future and the roles will reverse. The giver and receiver constantly exchanges roles, based on needs at the time.
We all have unmet needs that vary across our life span. When I first moved to Middletown, I survived on both a meager psychology internship salary at a local hospital and food stamps. I had few pieces of furniture and no savings. Today, my life has changed and I'm in a position to be helpful to others, depending upon their needs. I have been both the receiver and giver of help at various times in my life. The idea is to recognize that there is unique joy whenever we can experience being both the receiver of gifts and the giver of them.
Creating a “gift mentality” is simple, one person at a time. You can begin with a small gesture to provide others with something you can share. For instance, I've been a book lover all my life, so I've accumulated a lot of books. Over the years, I've developed a practice of giving away free books in my office waiting room. I enjoy knowing that others will enjoy the books and I encourage them to pass them on to friends when they're finished reading. Another approach is to identify a person or group of people with a very specific need and offer to help, with only one stipulation: they must pledge to help someone else in the future in any way they can when their life situation changes.
A gift mentality pays homage to the unique gifts that we all have and can share with others. Based on our individual talents, skills, and resources, we can always provide for another in need. Imagine: if our entire community embraced this idea of gifting others whenever we saw the opportunity to provide what someone else needed, the positive impact would have a ripple effect. One person at a time, we could alter the well-being of our entire community.
If you are reading this article and this idea has peeks your interest, perhaps you’ll consider how to make this idea become alive in your own life. You may even want to take this idea to the next level and explore ways to set up a ‘gifting center” where people can deposit belongings they no longer need and provide items and services they might want to donate to others. A 4th century Bishop and Doctor of the Catholic Church, St. Basil the Great, said, “If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich or poor.” A gift mentality allows this truth to flourish.
In our current economic climate, with many people laid off from jobs and barely making ends meet despite attempts to work, this is a perfect time to implement a “gift mentality” in our community. We are all interconnected: the whole is as healthy as its individual members. We must hold responsibility for the well-being of everyone in our community and we can no longer afford to believe that we are separate and disconnected.
© Copyright, 2012, Ginger E. Blume, Ph.D.