‘Because it creates gratitude or obligation, to willingly receive a gift is itself a form of generosity, it says: ‘I am willing to owe you one. Or in a more sophisticated gift culture, it says: ‘I am willing to be in the debt of the community’ (Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein)
On this week in between Xmas and New Year, let’s talk about gift and debt, on a human level. I met an old friend on the street the other day. Someone who has given me much on a creative level, valuable perspectives and hands-on support at an important time. He was visibly shaken and in a dark place – the same place possibly – with his family, financially, that we were in not so long ago, two years – or even a year ago – we were in a radically different socio-economic situation from today. And though we are debtors still, our debts no longer hold a cold dark grip on our psyches and daily lives, and we both have incomes. We are long out of the credit game (and on a debt management plan) but I remember regular points during those weeks and months of wondering how to feed the family and get Leo to work. I know what it is like to feel desperate and not find the strength to see beyond, to something else. And how this affected our self-image and sense of worth. To be literally enslaved to creditors, because you don’t have the power that the right information gives you and are not able to leave the illusory world of ‘easy’ credit, or simply have no alternative.
Beyond this and whatever cultural norm we may have bought into and been bitten by, having the basics covered, which millions don’t have, – even in the 7th richest country on the planet that we inhabit, – is a basic human right.
Who can even think about engaging meaningfully with the world when the most simple of bills can’t be paid and creditors are surrounding you?
There were several key friends/family during our darkest of times who were both non-judgemental and compassionate enough (and in a financial position which allowed them to respond) and offered us gifts of either practical support or money at absolutely crucial moments, as we tried to steer our shipwrecked life to safer shores. Sometimes this was the smallest of amounts or gestures but made a huge difference. It was deeply uncomfortable for me at times to accept this support, but it was life-saving, not just because of the practical difference it made, but because of the gift that the offer represented on a human level – an acknowledgement of our interdependence and the emotional risk that accepting support from another – whilst managing the feeling of indebtedness that this necessarily involves. In my discomfort one friend pointed out that this was not a one-way street, but something that she felt came back to her in other ways, and that might not involve me at all. This is a basic principle of the gift, (debt being it’s shadow side) – that it must be passed on, and is not necessarily restricted to the reciprocation to the original giver in order to move. This isn’t the case with negociated loans/debts, which have another dynamic, but more on that in later posts.
In the New Year I will be referencing writer, thinker and speaker Charles Eisenstein once more, via his new book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible’ .
I quoted him often in my R+D blog for this project and here is a repost from that which is relevant to all this and connects his ideas of gift in his last book Sacred Economics to his language of ‘interbeing’ in the current book which I will be referring to more and more in the coming months.
(Repost From 24.1.2013:
‘As in infancy, periods of helplessness reconnect us to the principle of the gift’ Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics
I had the growing impression through the book that its author had been through some kind of personal crisis, which had transformed his thinking, and this does in fact get revealed in the closing chapters. Like us, he and his family had to go through acute material loss and the generosity of those around them to survive. It feels to me that this experience – as well as his reaction as human being to the ecological and social change in a broader sense – has on some deep level informed, the lucidity and breadth of his perspective. I am sure many will totally take issue with his ideas, but to me the overall synthesis of his and others ideas into a roadmap forward is fresh and potentially life changing. I identified with this drive I felt he had, that comes when one has nothing left to lose, and there arises a deeper sense of wanting to use what one has left – in own my case my own art practice – and put it at the service of others.
The notion of art as servitude is also something touched apon in that book and that I have been thinking about in relation to how I operate in relation to the Book of Debts – servant, guardian, scribe, conduit?
Gift and service are of course closely interlinked and there are many questions around how we define them both depending on our value system.
When I wake up feeling like I am using one of my creative ‘gifts’ fully in my everyday life, when in flows, it feels like a form of true service. Service to whom? To myself? To future audiences /public? To Art with a capital A? To the idea, as an entity In itself? To The Unseen /God/The Universe/Everything?
However both the ideas in the book and the notion of service – and how this kind of art sits within them – could be seen to be rooted in the idea of the interconnectedness of all things, the non-hierarchical nature of the way human beings can truly relate, and in this sense do both gift and service become a kind of currency that just makes society work better?
Within that way of looking at the world, debt has the capacity to operate as a form of gratitude – confronting to consider and at odds with /eclipsing so many of the visible ways debt seems to be operating in society and being used around us that gives it a dark and often violent name, I thought…’
And to all those I /we still feel we owe one to, thankyou – you know who you are.