An invitation to interdependence

Let's practice the gift economy

This isn’t one of my normal posts. Rather, today I want to take a break from my (ir)regularly scheduled programming to share two invitations:

  1. I want to make it possible for you to make a gift in support of this newsletter and me, should you so choose. Note: I’m deliberately avoiding the words “pay” and “charge” because to me it’s about trying to live within capitalism while moving toward the post-capitalist future I long for. I like to think of money as energy, or care, or even love… the goal is for it to flow to what gives life. That is how we practice abundance. While all my writing will remain freely available to everyone, the choice to invest your energy and care in me will come with a reciprocal commitment. That is…

  2. I will be hosting a monthly gathering for those who choose to subscribe to this newsletter beyond the free version, for practitioners who want to connect with kindred spirits around topics of shared inquiry. The inaugural gathering will be Monday, November 1st, @ 8am Pacific Daylight Time (11am ET, 4pm CET/CAT, 8:30 pm India)… we’ll start with just doing one hour and see how that feels for folks. Sorry to those in Asia/Pacific; I’ll try to move the timing around so everyone will have a chance to participate. If you would like to join these gatherings but cannot at present become a subscriber, please let me know and I — or another subscriber — will gift you a subscription so you have access. I’ll send out the Zoom info the week prior, so please hold the time if you’d like to join!

More context to follow, but if you’d like to step into a more interdependent relationship…. I encourage you to consider practicing the gift economy with me.

Why I write

I write for three reasons:

  1. I love to write. I always have. It’s one of the ways I express myself (I keep a journal too). I love the transformative power of language, it’s ability to illuminate, to create possibility.

  2. It’s how I make sense of the world. There is so much happening, at such incredible speed, that it’s extremely difficult to separate signal from noise, to know what to pay attention to and what to let pass by. I often don’t know my own thoughts or perspective on a topic until I write: it is the process of making visible to myself my own thoughts. In short: it is how I do my best thinking.

  3. I want to connect with others. I want to find the “other others.” I know I’m not alone in grappling with these questions. I write publicly — and share my writing in the communities of which I am a part — because I hope that kindred spirits will find me, will share their own ideas and practices, and that together we can move toward the world we know is possible.

I only write when my muse demands it, and when my capacity allows (not always easy with two young kids and a full-time job). That ends up being roughly every 2-4 weeks.

Curating complexity… in search of simplicity

Each post typically involves around 50 hours of “work.” I say “work” in quotes because to me it isn’t work: I find it deeply satisfying. About 60% of that is inputs: reading (books, essays, blog posts, tweets, memes), listening (primarily podcasts), and conversing (mostly in the context of my work with Building Belonging). This is about experiencing other people’s gifts, absorbing their wisdom. The other 40% is distilling, synthesizing, searching for the deepest kernel of insight that wants to emerge… and taking my own perspective on it. Thinking. Trying to express my own gift.

I sometimes describe myself as a “curator,” resonating with Agnes Callard’s notion of being a “midwife to knowledge.” I share Koyo Kouoh’s sentiments on the art of curation:

I also understand the practice of curating as a practice of enabling, of making possible, unearthing, opening, and channeling ideas and energies.

A responsibility I take very seriously in that practice is trying to always source my inspirations; Veena Dubal beautifully captures why:

Ideas are not invented. They are built through conversations and relationships with friends, colleagues, communities of people. Citation practices are a way of honoring that lovely, Liberating process. I’m skeptical of anyone who wants to claim their ideas are theirs alone.

I know I’m not always easy to read — many friends lament coming away from my posts with a daunting reading list drawn from my citations. I don’t expect people to follow my breadcrumbs — we all have our own journeys — but I do want to make it possible for you to go where your curiosity takes you. And I know sometimes I try to weave too much (I also call myself a “network weaver”). So I appreciate your grace with my efforts, and always welcome insights that move toward simplicity… that elusive “simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

Practicing interdependence

I’ve been reflecting of late about how out-of-practice we are — in Western cultures in particular, but I think this is a global phenomenon in different ways — with what it means to live in healthy interdependence. Here in America we bounce wildly between an individualistic form of “independence” (which often serves to sever us from community, and therefore the possibility of belonging) and codependence (a form of nonconsensual neediness that paradoxically also denies the possibility of true belonging).

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the notion of the “speed of belonging” (a lovely riff on the “speed of trust,” coined by friend and fellow Building Belonging member Jordan Lyon), and what seems to me a need for us as a species to figure out how to dramatically accelerate the speed of belonging… I believe we can’t transform faster than our sense of belonging. And yet… to step toward belonging, to make the unilateral first bid… oh so vulnerable. So scary. I love this definition from Charles Feltman (hat-tip to Beth Tener for pointing me to it):

Trust is “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”

And: I realize I’ve been hypocritical. I’m inviting people to practice living in the world in integrity, aligned with their values… and part of how I understand the world I long for is the concept of a “gift economy” (which I wrote about here). I want to thank Tara Shepersky for helping nudge me in this direction — ironically, after she thanked me for the gift economy post nudging her to try something similar :-) As always, easier to preach than practice, sigh. It’s hard to ask for help, for support, particularly when money is involved. I love this post from Julie Pham exploring why that is… deeply resonant.

Free knowledge

I strongly believe that all knowledge — really, all the fruits of human ingenuity and creation — should be available to everyone. I don’t believe in paywalls. And in the post-capitalist future I long for there will be many ways to share appreciation for those gifts, and to share your own gifts in kind.

But we don’t yet live in that world. The primary expression of value and appreciation in capitalism is by moving money. I’m pretty convinced that one of the biggest barriers to the liberated future we desire is people’s inability to do what they want… because they have to pay bills.

How many people would quit their jobs tomorrow — and do far more life-serving work instead — if we had complete freedom? If all our basic life needs were met, and if say all salaries were equal? I’d set the over/under at about 90%… and that’s probably even too low. What if we could channel all that discretionary energy toward political organizing, toward art, toward gardening, toward stewarding nature rather than extracting from it… My fear is that there actually isn’t a Venn in the diagram below… that the “what you can be paid for” circle, by design, too often doesn’t overlap with the others.

Given that cruel reality, I think one of our obligations — as we work to transform this hostile system — is to do our best to close the gap. If we have the capacity, I believe we should do our best to give money to support the gifts (work) we want to see in the world. There are already encouraging movements underway that seek to do this (organic foods, e.g.) I believe we should pay for our music, for our art, for our books, for our media (and to the extent possible, try to support the artists/creators directly!)

I subscribe and contribute on a monthly basis to a number of people whose work I want to see continue in the world (various Patreon, Substack, and other accounts). Indeed, Substack as a platform (and other start-ups like Ghost) exist precisely because the pressures associated with writing for an advertising-revenue based model turns out to not be very good for democracy.

And yet I don’t offer people who engage with my work the same opportunity. There is currently no way for people who want to support this work to do so. And I’m challenging myself to work on that, vulnerable though it is.

Give money to serve life

This was the conclusion I came to in the gift economy post, about how we can best live under capitalism while moving toward the post-capitalist future we long for. Marshall Rosenberg offers an attractive way to think about it, that resonates very much with my own feelings:

Don’t ever pay money for anything. Give money. Give it to serve life in the way you want it to serve…

Don’t ever charge money, request money from people to help you do the work you want to do. Don’t ever say I will only give you what I find valuable if you give me money.

I will be glad to give you what I offer, and I’d like you to give me some money so I can keep giving it to others.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to offer an opportunity for paid (gift!) subscriptions. I don’t believe in a “freemium” model: everything I share will remain freely available to everyone. What changes, if you’re willing, is your relationship to it. Should you choose to give money to support this work, if this feels like it “serves life,” then we are taking a step toward interdependence… our relationship becomes more reciprocal. I’m excited about that possibility. And to honor that choice I will also focus more intentionally on creating spaces for this two-way newsletter exchange to become more of a community, to connect those of you who receive this in your inbox to each other… should you so choose.

Tell me a story

And I have a request. Building Belonging member Jordan Lyon introduced a game/practice to re-imagine our relationship to money called Love Berries. And one of my favorite things about it is that the act of giving comes with the sharing of a story.

For every Patreon or Substack I support financially… there are many more that I do not. And I tell myself a different story for each one (she doesn’t really need it; this isn’t my primary community; I can’t support everyone; my “philanthropic” resources can be better-used elsewhere, etc.) Sometimes these stories are true; sometimes they’re a way to avoid dissonance, or deflect. I’m challenging myself to be honest… with myself.

In that spirit, should you choose to give — or should you choose not to! — I would love if you would share the story of why. How does it feel in your body? What is the story you’re telling yourself about that decision? Our body always has a clear yes, or a clear no… and a space of “I’m open to influence.” What is yours telling you? Will you share?

One of the reasons I write publicly — and enable comments from anyone — is to crowdsource wisdom, and help you find each other. So if you are willing, I’d encourage you to share your story as a comment to begin to practice collective interdependence. If that feels too bold or vulnerable to start, I still of course welcome your email responses :-) If you’re open to stepping into interdependence and practice around the gift economy together, please join me.

Thanks for indulging this experiment, regardless of whether you decide to participate. I’ll be back in the next week or two (home today with a sick kid… typing while she naps, the poor tot) with an exploration of “belonging beyond borders”… an invitation to re-imagine citizenship beyond nation states. Until soon!

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