Money, Gifts, and Creating an Economy of Love
I’ve done the work of learning how to charge what you’re worth. I’ve studied pricing strategy. I’ve run a successful business that supports me and I understand how money works. So I’m not coming to this from the idea that “money is the root of all evil”. I see money as a tool and a system, and it provides an efficient way to trade value. And I’m not bothered by charging for the work that I do, in realms like web design and business.
But when it comes to teaching NVC, I’m finding I have a very hard time charging anything. My students today asked (again) what they could offer in return for the effort and time and resources I’m bringing to our class. And I explained that I didn’t understand quite why, but I just could not seem to bring myself to set a price or ask for money. And yet I recognized that of course they wanted reciprocity and mutuality and to contribute back to me–I get that, and I want to honor that too. And yet, something in me was balking.
I recognized the resistance–it’s the same feeling I have about “monetizing” my writing–it just doesn’t feel authentic. And yet, I’ve received the feedback several times from people that they received so much from my writing and wanted to give me something back, but there was nothing to buy!
Then one student mentioned that at her church they use the mechanism of a “love offering” (donation) rather than charging. Right! That immediately felt a lot better to me. We agreed on that strategy for the class.
A Gift Economy
This got me to thinking – and Googling. I started reading about the gift economy movement. This blog post from the Gifting Tree Wellness Network speaks to me deeply. Here is an excerpt:
When we write a poem we make a gift. When we paint a picture or build a
beautiful house we make a gift. When we grow flowers and cook food we make a gift. When all these activities are performed as sacred acts, they nourish society. When we are unselfconscious, unacquisitive, and act without desire for recognition or reward, when our work emerges from a pure heart like that of a child, our actions become a gift.
This is exactly how it feels to me to be teaching: it is something I do from a pure heart. When a student shares that they had a breakthrough and feel relief and empowerment–how could I ask for money on top of that? It feels so strange. I’m already receiving so much. It feels like charging would take something away; bring it out of the realm of a gift and into the realm of transactions.
And yet, money is still needed to pay for things like rent and copies and such. I get that too. I knew I needed to find some way to receive money, and this feels like the right way to do it.
Pondering more, I can see this pattern showing up in other areas over the last few years. Several years ago I started earning enough through my web hosting business that I was able to stop taking web design clients. This was a relief, because being creative for money always created tension for me.
And yet I have friends who I want to contribute my web design skills to. And so we set up trades. But because I am not doing it for money, and only taking it on because I genuinely wanted to offer it, it felt more like a gift than a trade. And that feels like an entirely different way to work.
When someone is paying you to do something, it creates a subtle power dynamic, where they can tell you what to do and you have to do it. I’ve written a lot about how to maintain boundaries in business, but at the end of the day, there is an expectation on both sides that the person paying the money is supposed to end up happy, whether or not the person who is being paid is. It doesn’t have to happen that way, but to not end up that way there needs to be a lot of respect and awareness on both sides.
I’m aware that it is a luxury to have the means to offer work as a gift. I don’t think it should be this way; I’m an advocate for a Basic Income Guarantee. And this is functionally what I have created for myself with my hosting business (which is a small lifestyle business)–a livable, sustainable income so that I can live and work from inspiration as much as possible. Including, I now realize, when I am inspired to gift work in the form of business support or teaching.
Sitting with the difference, it feels so much better to work from a gift consciousness. When I think of all the work that is done in the world under economic duress, I feel an immense sadness at the loss this represents. Not just the loss of happiness and satisfaction, but the immense creativity that is available when working from inspiration, and how that is lost when working when your heart does not move you.
Working Within Connection
The second difference is in the connection between myself and the person who is receiving the work. In working for/with friends, there is a context to the work, of love and connection. That is a very different context than pure business.
I’ve often imagined the most perfect job would be to be the Ship’s Counselor on Star Trek. I now have a new piece of why that what appeals to me–not only does money not exist in Starfleet, she always works in community and connection–no strangers show up at her office, and then one day just don’t come back. She is not just counseling a ship, she is holding space for a community, and helping her friends.
That is what I want my life to be. Helping my friends.
Not in the sense of helping only my friends, but helping people in a way where love and friendship is the basis for the relationship–rather than money being the basis.
Permission to Give
This insight tonight gives me some relief from Jackals that say, “You should be charging…don’t you think you are valuable?? People won’t value you if you don’t charge for things! Do you have some problem receiving? Do we need to work on this!?”.
I understand now why there are so many things I give for free, and why I spend most of my time making things that don’t give me any immediate economic benefit. That’s where I live–that’s what I love. And now I get that of course I do, that’s our natural state–to work and to create out of wanting to give, wanting to contribute.
And now I can put up some donation buttons so if people want to give back they can do so. It’s not that I don’t want to receive–it’s that I don’t want that to be the point.
To be motivated by wanting to give is entirely different than being motivated by wanting to receive. And the experience I want to have in this life, is to live and work from inspiration–not just creative inspiration, but the inspiration to give, freely, from love. From a pure heart.
Can you imagine a society, a culture, an economy, running on the energy of pure hearts, giving freely? What would that be like?
P.S. Apparently in Buddhism this is called dana. Very good post about it.
The donation box I made: