Gifts lubricate the informal economy and build relationships in our local community. Sometimes it’s a pick-up truck, maybe it’s eggs or fresh milk, perhaps helping a friend hammer down a new roof, but for me now it’s often my honey. As soon as you start giving food, things, and labor to your friends and neighbors you are no longer a consumer, but instead a producer of value. This change of perspective from consumer to producer is remarkably valuable on its own.
The gift economy springs forth naturally as soon as the consumer mind-set is shed. Our productive energies tend to generate a surplus of our creation. We wish to share what we consider worthy of our efforts with others, not only to eliminate surplus, but also to validate our endeavors. So we give away much of what we worked so hard to produce. The social value of gifts produced with our own labors far exceed any store-bought commodity. The homemade casserole brought to a neighbor after a hospital stay is immensely more valuable than a Swanson’s chicken pot pie.
When you receive a gift you become indebted to the giver in some way. Gift giving is without formal account, but that only makes the social debt that much more important to reconcile in our own minds. On a community level this leads to healthy interdependence and cooperation. The capabilities and surplus of each person lead to better well-being for all in the community, without the need for formal money, barter or tax systems.
Receiving and appreciating a gift is also acknowledgement of the giver’s accomplishment. When the gift is made with dedication and passion for the act of production, the giving interaction is all that more meaningful. My neighbors with chickens have a relationship with their means of production (the chickens), just as I do with my bees and garden. Mutual gifts extend and validate such relationships.
The array of produce and neighborly exchanges that tie my little world together make it far richer than if I just got stuff at the grocery store. The neighborly exchanges over the last few years have included: plums, cherries, pears & apples, preserves, and canned fruit; eggs, milk, cheese, and beef; honey, bees-wax, wine, seeds and starts of all sorts; raspberries canes and strawberry plants; manure, compost-makings, and fire wood; bicycles, and bike maintenance; gardening tasks, carpentry, many shared meals, music making, and art work; shared hand tools, pickup trucks, chainsaw, and rototiller. Along with all of the exchanges are the many fine conversations that knit my little community together.
May you all enjoy the gift of good giving this holiday season.