I have always liked to think of myself as a generous person. I enjoy doing things for people and giving them small items that I have made. It makes me feel good. My involvement with the Occupy movement started me down the path of looking at alternate economies, including gift economies. Our current world economy is based on self interest and we are led to believe that selfishness is mankind's natural state. Self interest is what drives our "free market economy". And there was a time when I bought into it myself.
But over time I have slowly come to believe that generosity, not selfishness is our natural state. It is our economic system itself that forces us into selfishness. This past holiday season has reinforced that belief in our natural generosity.
One of my hobbies is tumble polishing gemstones. When I first started doing this I had some vague notion of selling them. But as I started accumulating more and more polished stones and showing them to my friends and family, they admired them so much that I just started giving them away. And their gratitude gave me a good felling inside. When I would go to their homes I would see them on display on shelves with their other collectables and nicknacks. I got so that I would carry some with me in a small drawstring pouch and started giving them away to not only people I knew but strangers too. To people that I would normally tip, like taxi drivers and waitresses, in addition to their monetary tip I would give them a stone. Then I started giving them to people I wouldn't normally tip, like check out clerks at stores. Then to strangers I happened to run across on the bus or sitting on park benches, and to any child within range.
The reaction I get from people is always the same: gratitude. A true gift is given expecting nothing in return. Year round gift giving a little different than Christmas or birthday gifts where you know you will receive gifts in return either now or in the future. The natural reaction to receiving is gratitude and the desire to give back. The exchange of gifts during the holiday season is for me a family thing, focusing on the children. But this year as I made my rounds to wish my friends happy holidays I was deluged with small gifts, ranging form homemade cookies to waki tabaki.
But the incident that really brought home to me the power of the gift happened a few summers ago. My water heater went out and as my landlady and the maintenance man were installing a new one, my landlady's two young granddaughters (approximately 5 and 3 years old) were playing in the front yard. They were squatted down on the front lawn poking around with sticks looking for bugs when I walked up and and spread a handful of stones on the ground and told them each to pick one. I stood and waited for them to make their choice. And waited. And waited. They seemed to ooohh and aaahh over every one. "It's so hard to decide" said the older one. Now when it comes to money I am a poor man. But when it comes to polished stones, I am wealthy. I said " Tell you what, take them all". They both gave me an astonished look like I had just handed them all the gold in Fort Knox.
I went back inside and sat down. A few minutes later there was a soft knock on the door. I opened the door and there stood the two little girls with shy looks on their faces. The oldest one was holding a flower in her hand. She raised her hand to hand me the flower and said: "It was the prettiest one I could find". A gift worth more than any rock I have ever had. My tumblers are running 24/7.