That Looks A Lot Like a Riddle. What Fun!
When you read these posts I hope you also read the replies, because many of them are more thought-provoking than the posts that inspired them! For instance, last time when I wrote about how I perceived Heifer International to be a great model of a gift economy. Lisa responded that it is a great business model, but not a true example of gifting because the recipient of a heifer or other animal is expected to take care of the animal in a prescribed way and pass the “gift” to another family. In contrast a true gift, according to Lisa…and Eisenstein…is given freely with no expectations.
I love it when people reply because it gets me to thinking stuff I would never have thought to think. And now that I have thought to think about Eisenstein’s and Lisa’s distinction I have decided to respectfully disagree; instead, I am now seeing gifting as an evolving door. I know you probably think I mean REvolving door, but I don’t. What I mean is that we can open the door to the idea of becoming a gift rather than a market economy, but the view is a long one. It is going to take trial and error and working it in stages before it has a chance to evolve into its true potential. And if we begin by gifting indiscriminately in a world with limited resources and people accustomed to a system of scarcity and greed, we will soon run short of both resources and patience. The unavoidable truth is that people get no satisfaction of giving a gift that is unappreciated and/or ill-used, so it seems to me that setting appropriate parameters at the beginning could make the crucial difference in creating a more beautiful world vs. abandoning the notion of a gift culture all together.
Oh yeah, and while we are speaking of distinctions and definitions–because we were, or at least I was–Eisenstein describes a gift as something that one person or entity has in excess, given without expectations, to another who has a need. Yes!…AND in my opinion it can also be something one does not have in excess but just gives for the pleasure of bringing expected joy. Here’s an example: one day I was visiting with a dear, dear friend of mine who admired my amethyst ring and said that one day she hoped to own one, too, since it was her favorite stone. Spontaneously–which is not necessarily the same as the “freely” in Eisenstein’s definition–I pulled it off my finger and put it on hers, saying, “It is yours!” Her eyes teared up, but she did not protest because we both knew it was right. I had enjoyed the ring for 40 years, and now I wanted her to feel its joy as well. Every time I see her, she stretches out her hand and says, “See my ring? Don’t you just love it?” To witness her joy is a greater blessing to me than owning the ring. However, if she had taken the ring and then never worn it…well, I would be pissed because the ring did have value to me. Therefore, my slogans going forward are, do not cast your amethysts before swine, and don’t pretend to be altruistic if you are not. Eisenstein, in fact, totally agrees with the latter: he says never give unless you really, really want to–because we can only evolve into a gift economy if we are authentic. And I would add the caveat, “And stop giving to that person if the gift is abused, and give to someone else instead.” That way the gifts will keep giving, and isn’t that what we all want anyway–to cultivate a society evolving into giving rather than taking?
So when is a gift not a gift? It has nothing to do whether it is given spontaneously or thought-through over a long period of time. because I know of a lot of very special gifts that were well-thought through, and I have also experienced gifts that were spontaneously given. It also has little to do with whether the giving is accompanied by expectations. The true test of whether something functions as gift is that it should…drum roll...uplift! Uplift the giver, uplift the recipient and eventually uplift society at large. The answer to the riddle, therefore is, a gift is not a gift when it fails to uplift. Write on, J.K.!