Sacred Cows…

Meet Sacred Economics

I think I am close to saying everything I have to say about a gift economy, so two more posts, maybe? Of course I can never be sure because the posts write themselves when they are ready. (And that, my dears, is how the future is written–at least in my book…and in my posts.)

Anyway, lately I’ve been asking myself, in its purest form what would a gift economy look like?

My last eight posts have explored some characteristics, most of them from Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics. Included in that list are; paying it forward (or back is OK too), accountability, building community through sharing, and restoring the commonwealth. In addition I have pointed out that money itself can also be a gift, but we need to change our societal perceptions of it. Raise consciousness, tell a new story, if you will.

All of this may sound new, but, guess what?!!! An organization called Heifer international has been doing that and more for 70 years. One man’s gift of 17 cows to families in Puerto Rico in 1944 has evolved into the charity’s present-day vision of “a world of communities living together in peace and equitably sharing the resources of a healthy planet.”

That vision is specifically laid out in twelve “cornerstones,” several of which have a lot in common with Eisenstein’s description of a gift economy:

1.Passing the gift. After the gift of an animal is received, the recipient pays it forward by gifting the first off-spring to another family in the community. According to Eisenstein, when one receives a life-changing gift, the automatic response is gratitude and a desire to do the same for others, which in turn brings joy.

2. Accountability. Not only is the gift passed along to others, but the donor of the off-spring is responsible for educating the recipient in animal husbandry. Remember the woman who sold donations on E-Bay a few posts ago? And the discussion that followed among readers of whether a true gift requires accountability? Heifer’s answer is yes.

3. Sharing and Caring. This, according to Heifer–and Eisenstein–is one of the most effective ways to build community.

4. Sustainability and self-reliance–it’s the old story about not giving a man a fish, but teaching him to fish, with the added caveat–don’t destroy the environment when you fish. Or as Eisenstein puts it: work to restore the commonwealth.

5. Nutrition and income. Nutritious food, safe drinking water, and the means to live well in community is what Eisenstein says is our right as humans.

6. Genuine need and justice. The original purpose of money, says Eisenstein, was to connect human gifts with human needs so we may all live in greater abundance.

7. Improving the environment. Or the wealth we should be holding in common. Yes.

8. Full participation. Building community requires one to be involved.

9. Training and education. Yes, again, but Eisenstein’s variety is about raising consciousness about the flaws of a market economy while at the same time initiating conversations about how to transition to one of gifts.

10. Spirituality. Well, it isn’t called SACRED economics for no reason! (And, oh. btw, Heifer’s cows are “sacred” in the best possible way.)

Before I finish, it’s worth mentioning organizations which provide micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Although these loans are of great assistance to specific individuals who don’t qualify for traditional bank loans and also may help the community itself in some ways, the Eisensteinian problem is that they also take money out of the local economy because interest is paid to outside entities. So just be aware that when you make a donation to fund a micro-loan, you may be indirectly creating problems for those in that culture with limited financial resources; in other words, your certificate of deposit could be someone else’s foreclosure. The bigger question, however, is should we be exporting our questionable Western values to other cultures?

In comparison, Heifer’s “passing the gift,” sidesteps money all together. And secondly, although donors from outside of the recipient community do give money to provide the initial gift, it is a usually a situation of people with relative excess giving to a cause that restores the commonwealth world-wide. Most donors, I suspect, give out of gratitude for what they have rather than out of feelings of self-sacrifice, so as one of my mentors likes to say, “It’s a beautiful thing. You’ve got to love it!”

And I hope you do!




4 thoughts on “Sacred Cows…

  1. Trudi

    hmm number 7 .sounds like communism ? or maybe I don’t understand . i don’t mind sharing. i do mind being forced to share..My natutal impulse is to share what I have or know but that seems to be too intrusive to some

  2. jkwinters Post author

    Hi Trudi. Easy to misunderstand.I have been reading and writing about Eisenstein so long now that I forget readers may not be used to his terminology. He uses the word “commonwealth” to refer to the wealth that all people used to hold in common before corporations made us pay for it. This wealth consists of clean water and air, land, vegetation…So no forced sharing implied here! In fact, Eisenstein is adamant that people should never give or share unless they really want to.

  3. Lisa

    I believe “Commonweath” is intended to mean the things we share in common that CAN’T REALLY be “owned” by anyone – air, water, land. You may own ACCESS to a piece of it, but it’s healthier if we think of owning that piece of land as “stewardship” rather than “I can do whatever I want to do with this because I OWN it.” I may own land by the river, but that doesn’t mean it’s ethically fine to dump pollutants into it. The deeper ethical question considers not just me, not just my family, not just my nation, not just my religious group…..but every Being who inhabits this planet, and this precious planet Earth itself.

  4. Lisa

    Love Heiffer International! I believe they are a wonderful model of sustainability & community.

    A quibble. To me the word “GIFT” implies nothing required in return. A true gift means something I give with no strings attached. But I think we mix-up when something is a gift versus when we give something with an expected return/outcome. So to me, Heiffer isn’t a gift. There are rules and requirements to get that heiffer. AND THAT’S GREAT. Not everything should be a gift.

    I feel that Heiffer Intl. is more like a not-for-profit business in which people agree to certain things to get the animal, and then must fulfill those agreements. And no Corporate Board gets any profit from the exchange; all proceeds go directly back to the people being served. This is a very honorable model of business and I wish our education and health care systems were run this way.

    I’ve long thought there is really no such thing as altruism. Doesn’t exist. Because even if I give a true “gift”, no strings attached, nothing expected in return, I get that wonderful feeling of giving. (The way I can tell if I gave a “Gift” is if I expect something back. If I feel hurt or miffed that I didn’t get something back, it wasn’t really a gift, it was in some way a trade/bargain/agreement.)

    I may disagree with Charles about what really defines a gift (not sure since I read Sacred Econ. a long time ago) but I still love his teaching. Thanks J.K.!


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