Why is there so much work to do and too many unemployed people? How do we find work, and ourselves, in a bad economy: what if we all lowered the bar a little, lost our egos and began to help our neighbors? I suggest the only thing we have to do to find work, is listen.
Imagine living in an overly happy world, where people read your mind. The neighbor made extra dinner and brought it over the day you were running late, someone pulled up with a can of gas as your car was coasting on an empty tank to the side of the road. When your best friend saw you walking down the street on a day you needed comfort. What if everyone who could help you were within walking distance, an interconnected world beyond wireless, a world where our actions and desires could be filled by simply being open to the fact that they could be.
I believe this overly happy world is the case, it exists around us right now, and if you don’t believe me I am going to suggest a good case of listening.
Think about your best friend. The best thing about friends are the way they listen. In return, the best thing about a friend is listening. When is the last time you were inspired talking to yourself?
Listening is about
o p p o r t u n i t y
and, you guessed it, about being more open. Lose your ego and discover where you find yourself. In a deeply interconnected world, I need to be less critical, even in my mind. Respecting someone with my thoughts if the first way to allowing them an opportunity to inspire me.
We give up the richness in life when we choose talking over listening. When I assume I know everything about you and my way is better, I forfeit the base of a relationship and an opportunity to enrich my life with something else.
How does this apply when looking for work? I’ll take myself as an example.
The woman I want to be: Someone who doesn’t need too much but likes the quality of things like a great china dish, a cuddling mug for coffee in the morning, things I’ve paired with a crisp table and fine linens that don’t match but look good as my collection. I want to make my own clothes, have time to think. I like this writing. I like a book club, I like arranging a room and the search for items but not as much as I like ordering what I have or making things I need. I like dinner conversations with my husband. I like to give my opinion on big questions. I like being conservative with what I own and how I spend time. I like hosting discussions…could I start a studio for community action? I like to draw and dream. I am an architect, I am a runner. I like coming together for group critiques. I love conversations with my friends.
Now, lets look at how this may apply to what I do for work, and treat it boldly, sarcastically as we all do when we sell ourselves. It is how we come across when we have the idea of what we deserve.
I am good at what I do. In the professional society I am specialized but can cover a large general area with what I do. As an architect I can dream, realize an actual, economical and buildable project for a client, I can draw pretty pictures and fly you around in a 3D model. I can conceptualize, help you find a contractor and get your project built with one. I am a visual person. On the side I am a writer, I teach gymnastics, I enjoy art and galley openings, deep conversations and traveling. I can work hard for you and I am a little expensive.
Expensive. Hm… How many more thing I would do if they weren’t so expensive. Who else would hire me if they thought I was inexpensive. Now that I am a professional I can do these things because I can afford them. In a perfect world I’m paid well and often, so well, I can work less and earn more. I can afford my own time now.
But, it’s not the same for everyone.
Many people in my profession are unemployed, many people are trying to find higher paying jobs. Good employers don’t want to spend too much money on anyone they hire and we are all wasting too much time thinking about it. Everyone is being very picky about what they deserve. (I heard this last week listening to NPR) Why don’t we all just lower the bar a little?
I think I’m great. We all think we’re great. We know what we deserve, and that’s the problem. Has anything ever turned out exactly how you’ve expected? Does the right school, too many extra curricular activities, everything, ever mattered as much as the attitude you have toward it? I’d have to say for myself that it never did.
Too often we run around in a dazed, worried world in which we are not able to look outside of the bubble and question what really matters… question the heart of what it is we are trying to obtain. That’s why I think we should lower the bar on what we think we deserve. Don’t be too close minded to mistake work for an opportunity. You decide what matters most.
Too many of us believe we deserve our lifestyle -that we should not have to work hard. It’s discouraging to some, the state of our current welfare system -that everyone has the right to money for food -and everyone isn’t granted instead the right to work. (To earn money and make a difference could all be rolled into one!)
You and I need to be better listeners. As I began to seek answers I came across many applicable resources. Charles Eisenstein wrote an article about community titled Shareable: A Circle of Gifts, an article in Architecture Record by Robert Ivy, an AIA lecture, and had a conversation with a friend about working together.
Charles Eisenstein views community as the answer to our overly commercial, less fulfilling, dwindling resource world. If we are to make a difference we can begin by helping those around us, so that in return we can depend on them. Beyond this main point he describe the history of communication and the change of our lifestyles to be more individualized. Our focus has become monetized and as a result, less giving. He introduces Alpha Lo’s idea and a social invention describing the gift circle as a way of fixing this. Isn’t it about love anyway? I suggest you read this article! Shareable: A Circle of Gifts
Here is a part of the article:
Wherever I go and ask people what is missing from their lives, the most common answer (if they are not impoverished or seriously ill) is “community.” What happened to community, and why don’t we have it any more? There are many reasons – the layout of suburbia, the disappearance of public space, the automobile and the television, the high mobility of people and jobs – and, if you trace the “why’s” a few levels down, they all implicate the money system.
More directly posed: community is nearly impossible in a highly monetized society like our own. That is because community is woven from gifts, which is ultimately why poor people often have stronger communities than rich people. If you are financially independent, then you really don’t depend on your neighbors – or indeed on any specific person – for anything. You can just pay someone to do it, or pay someone else to do it.
In former times, people depended for all of life’s necessities and pleasures on people they knew personally. If you alienated the local blacksmith, brewer, or doctor, there was no replacement. Your quality of life would be much lower. If you alienated your neighbors then you might not have help if you sprained your ankle during harvest season, or if your barn burnt down. Community was not an add-on to life, it was a way of life. Today, with only slight exaggeration, we could say we don’t need anyone. I don’t need the farmer who grew my food – I can pay someone else to do it. I don’t need the mechanic who fixed my car. I don’t need the trucker who brought my shoes to the store. I don’t need any of the people who produced any of the things I use. I need someone to do their jobs, but not the unique individual people. They are replaceable and, by the same token, so am I.
That is one reason for the universally recognized superficiality of most social gatherings. How authentic can it be, when the unconscious knowledge, “I don’t need you,” lurks under the surface? When we get together to consume – food, drink, or entertainment – do we really draw on the gifts of anyone present? Anyone can consume. Intimacy comes from co-creation, not co-consumption, as anyone in a band can tell you, and it is different from liking or disliking someone. But in a monetized society, our creativity happens in specialized domains, for money.
To forge community then, we must do more than simply get people together. While that is a start, soon we get tired of just talking, and we want to do something, to create something. It is a very tepid community indeed, when the only need being met is the need to air opinions and feel that we are right, that we get it, and isn’t it too bad that other people don’t … hey, I know! Let’s collect each others’ email addresses and start a listserv!
Community is woven from gifts. Unlike today’s market system, whose built-in scarcity compels competition in which more for me is less for you, in a gift economy the opposite holds. Because people in gift culture pass on their surplus rather than accumulating it, your good fortune is my good fortune: more for you is more for me. Wealth circulates, gravitating toward the greatest need. In a gift community, people know that their gifts will eventually come back to them, albeit often in a new form. Such a community might be called a “circle of the gift.”
Fortunately, the monetization of life has reached its peak in our time, and is beginning a long and permanent receding (of which economic “recession” is an aspect). Both out of desire and necessity, we are poised at a critical moment of opportunity to reclaim gift culture, and therefore to build true community. The reclamation is part of a larger shift of human consciousness, a larger reunion with nature, earth, each other, and lost parts of ourselves. Our alienation from gift culture is an aberration and our independence an illusion. We are not actually independent or “financially secure” – we are just as dependent as before, only on strangers and impersonal institutions, and, as we are likely to soon discover, these institutions are quite fragile.
Given the circular nature of gift flow, I was excited to learn that one of the most promising social inventions that I’ve come across for building community is called the Gift Circle. Developed by Alpha Lo, co-author of The Open Collaboration Encyclopedia, and his friends in Marin County, California, it exemplifies the dynamics of gift systems and illuminates the broad ramifications that gift economies portend for our economy, psychology, and civilization.
The ideal number of participants in a gift circle is 10-20. Everyone sits in a circle, and takes turns saying one or two needs they have. In the last circle I facilitated, some of the needs shared were: “a ride to the airport next week,” “someone to help remove a fence,” “used lumber to build a garden,” “a ladder to clean my gutter,” “a bike,” and “office furniture for a community center.” As each person shares, others in the circle can break in to offer to meet the stated need, or with suggestions of how to meet it.
When everyone has had their turn, we go around the circle again, each person stating something he or she would like to give. Some examples last week were “Graphic design skills,” “the use of my power tools,” “contacts in local government to get things done,” and “a bike,” but it could be anything: time, skills, material things; the gift of something outright, or the gift of the use of something (borrowing). Again, as each person shares, anyone can speak up and say, “I’d like that,” or “I know someone who could use one of those.”
During both these rounds, it is useful to have someone write everything down and send the notes out the next day to everyone via email, or on a web page, blog, etc. Otherwise it is quite easy to forget who needs and offers what. Also, I suggest writing down, on the spot, the name and phone number of someone who wants to give or receive something to/from you. It is essential to follow up, or the gift circle will end up feeding cynicism rather than community.
Finally, the circle can do a third round in which people express gratitude for the things they received since the last meeting. This round is extremely important because in community, the witnessing of others’ generosity inspires generosity in those who witness it. It confirms that this group is giving to each other, that gifts are recognized, and that my own gifts will be recognized, appreciated, and reciprocated as well.
It is just that simple: needs, gifts, and gratitude. But the effects can be profound.
First, gift circles (and any gift economy, in fact) can reduce our dependence on the traditional market. If people give us things we need, then we needn’t buy them. I won’t need to take a taxi to the airport tomorrow, and Rachel won’t have to buy lumber for her garden. The less we use money, the less time we need to spend earning it, and the more time we have to contribute to the gift economy, and then receive from it. It is a virtuous circle.
Secondly, a gift circle reduces our production of waste. It is ridiculous to pump oil, mine metal, manufacture a table and ship it across the ocean when half the people in town have old tables in their basements. It is ridiculous as well for each household on my block to own a lawnmower, which they use two hours a month, a leaf blower they use twice a year, power tools they use for an occasional project, and so on. If we shared these things, we would suffer no loss of quality of life. Our material lives would be just as rich, yet would require less money and less waste.
Whether natural or social, the reclamation of the gift-based commonwealth not only hastens the collapse of a growth-dependent money system, it also mitigates its severity. At the present moment, the market faces a crisis, merely one of a multiplicity of crises (ecological, social) that are converging upon us. Through the turbulent time that is upon us, the survival of humanity, and our capacity to build a new kind of civilization embodying a new relationship to earth and a new, more connected, human identity, depends on these scraps of the commonwealth that we are able to preserve or reclaim. Although we have done grievous damage to earth, vast wealth still remains. There is still richness in the soil, water, cultures and biomes of this planet. The longer we persist under the status quo, the less of that richness will remain and the more calamitous the transition will be.
On a less tangible level, any gifts we give contribute to another kind of common wealth – a reservoir of gratitude that will see us through times of turmoil, when the conventions and stories that hold civic society together fall apart. Gifts inspire gratitude and generosity is infectious. Increasingly, I read and hear stories of generosity, selflessness, even magnanimity that take my breath away. When I witness generosity, I want to be generous too. In the coming times, we will need the generosity, the selflessness, and the magnanimity of many people. If everyone seeks merely their own survival, then there is no hope for a new kind of civilization. We need each others’ gifts as we need each others’ generosity to invite us into the realm of the gift ourselves. In contrast to the age of money where we can pay for anything and need no gifts, soon it will be abundantly clear: we need each other.
Work for love.
Work at love.
Give love a chance.
Robert Ivy writes of the importance of a tangible urban society. In Architecture Records’ August 2010 editorial titled Scraping the Limits.
Today’s fragile world, with its dwindling resources and expanding populations, is calling for other agendas in the West. Attribute it to changing fortunes or the bitter aftertaste of spilled oil, our architectural sights have now shifted to a more socially, environmentally conscious agenda. We’re imagining a smaller scale, hands-on, ecofriendly urban world. We have corrected our course from too much bigness. Right?
AIA 2009 Convention lector, Peter Head of Arup tells us that first steps to advancing an ecoecology society from an industrial society is to involve community… bring together the experience of people to form a collective voice – made of many parts from the get go. He speaks of finding the connectivity of what exists in a community to implement better resource management. This is called open source modeling. This advances a greater social cohesion. Our skills need to be shared, pulled together and pushed quickly he says! Projects come from action. Community is so important in development. We need multidisciplinary teams who put in a small amount of work to solve each other’s problems as the first step. Before projects, these charrettes and workshops in the early stages help to seek an entire answer for a community to use its resources within and together, to create a closed loop, dependant upon one another. This is best for the world when we consider the limit of our resources. He ends with… ‘we are always in a reflectful phase.’
That is inspirational. Once I’ve started listening I hear more and more about communities, grassroot organizations, local people, and friends making small differences with our actions that are copied by those around us.
This makes me question …what does my community need to overcome to work together better? What barriers exist that take up our time and prevent an open, eager, listening mind? It seems like the last generation has impressed the tradition of territorial behaviors upon us. I live in Ohio but work in West Virginia. I say we need to ‘Bridge the River!’ I have family within an hour away in Pennsylvania. There is the Power of 32, thirty-two counties trying to break down borders. These antiquated limits of state lines we live by need to be rethought.
My time most likely involves things that I am passionate about. So why shouldn’t my work involve things I am passionate about? Instead of trying to figure out how you should make money, perhaps you should be questioning what you should be spending time doing.
If I am to engage in community I should do that with my work. It has worked for the local advocate, gardener, vista volunteer, Danny Swan. Through his passionate efforts of growing a garden he had helped to feed and empower young children in depressed areas, -children that live within two minutes walking distance of where I work each day.
It’s not about money, it’s about helping your neighbors. We all need to work harder to help people in our own community. Stop thinking about what you deserve and give someone what they need.