Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time Banking, Independence, and Community

by Charles Eisenstein

Adrianne McCurrach of the Santa Fe Time Bank wrote in her email newsletter about her experience at the recent Time Banking Conference,

There were times I bent my head to wipe away an escaping tear. SO many people in one place working to transform our culture into a place where all people are recognized for what we have to offer and where those assets are recorded and rewarded. Certainly we are meeting needs that would otherwise not be met if we were only using cash. We are also rewiring our brains: I want to know the people around me and engage in my whole community. This is the hard work - really committing to re-build community. Some of us may already know that it can be sticky sometimes - communication styles vary and we're so used to depending on the dollar to meet our needs. What happens when we depend on PEOPLE? Believe me, I know how hard that is. A few have heard me say that I was raised to believe that I am the only one I can count on and that if someone does me a favor I owe them. I am so tired of keeping that tally in my brain, and I am so tired of declining help, even if I need it. Fortunately, its not "all or nothing." We can do one thing a day, a week, a month and start to make change. Many of you have joined the time bank and haven't yet started exchanging... take the leap... go meet someone you don't know in the time bank. Invite them to coffee/tea/food. It really is something simple you can do to make a difference - a call to action really.

Indeed, so used to depending on the dollar are we that to depend on actual people is scary. But in fact, we are not really becoming more dependent when we enter the world of time banking. We are simply exchanging dependency on distant strangers for dependency on people we know. And that, as Adrianne implies, is what community is. It is a group of mutually dependent people.

We cannot have it both ways -- we cannot have independence and community at the same time. Community is not an add-on to a modern consumer life; it is a fundamental shift in being.

There will always be ways in which we depend on distant strangers. Ours is an interconnected world with a global coordination of labor, or, we might say, of gifts. If you use technology, for example a telephone or the internet, you are dependent on millions of people around the world who contribute to the production and maintenance of high-tech systems. That is why I think a money economy will continue to exist. It will occupy a diminished role, however, as we turn toward local providers to meet those needs that CAN be met locally.

In our highly monetized society today, we hardly depend on anyone we know; in fact, we pride ourselves on not depending. But like Adrianne, many of us are getting tired of living in an alienating, atomized society. We want not independence, but ties. But to develop them can be scary, because immersed in the mythology of the separate self, we want not to depend on anyone. To have money meant, "I don't need your gifts, I can pay for it, thank you." To receive gifts, to receive charity, puts us in a position of obligation, of debt. Strange it is to me, that people prefer to owe money to vast impersonal institutions than to owe favors to those around them.

Time banking and other forms of local gift economy entail a shift of consciousness, so that we no longer fear connection. To receive is to owe: even if no one is keeping track, when we receive the gifts of others we are cast naturally into a feeling of gratitude, and from it, the desire to give in turn.

The freedom of financial independence is a fake freedom, because it means dependence on distant strangers. It is also a useless freedom, because whether or not moved by obligation, we desire to give anyway. Are we so stingy that we wish never to owe anyone a favor?

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