The Gift Economy

The Gift Economy
A surprise gift / Kristina Alexanderson

By Fran Southgate

Wetlands Landscape Officer

Last week, I was asked to remember all the times when I gave something to someone for free, and then to remember all the times when I received things for free. It was interesting and humbling to realise how both the giving and the receiving experiences made me feel, and how they were perhaps a little mismatched. In a society which is driven by transactional giving (I will only give you two loaves of bread, if you give me £2; or if I give you something, I want something back) it is strangely difficult to find something which has true value. We often give because we have to, and not because we want to.

‘Gifting’ and the gift economy is an emerging idea. Gifting is easy, it just requires you to give what you have in plenty. This might be your time, your expertise, a glut of allotment fruit and veg to your colleagues who don’t have gardens, or a warm meal to an elderly neighbour on an icy cold day. You can’t buy time, but you can give your friend a couple of hours of blissful peace and quiet by looking after their kids. You can’t buy friendship, but for someone who is having a bad day, some kind words might just get them through until tomorrow. Gifting can’t be forced – it is genuine generosity. It must be freely given, and freely received, with nothing expected in return. No law can require you to do it, or punish you for not doing it.

A memorable life experience is one of the most valuable things that you can give to someone. Freedom, support, safety, acknowledgement, or if you have some spare then some money, accommodation, warm blankets and food are others. I volunteer sometimes for a local homeless soup kitchen, and in winter all they want is warm socks! I have just been ‘gifted’ a week of free accommodation, food and teaching at a stunning location in Dartmoor, and although its true value was around £400, to me the experience has been priceless. I will remember it forever.

As the frenzied rush to buy presents for Christmas ensues, I am thinking about how I can gift things to people, rather than giving them gifts. I may not receive anything back in return, but to me a smile is worth more than money. On a day to day basis where money appears to be the only language that many people speak, it is reassuring that there are so many people out there who are willing to give something for free in order to make the world a better place.

These are some fantastic current examples of the emerging gift economy:-

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