When’s the last time you borrowed a cup of sugar from the neighbour, and then hey, you got chatting, turns out they’re single and so are you, so they invite you in for a cuppa, and hey, the rest is history? Never? Guess why – because there’s a 24hr store selling sugar just down the road, so why ever speak to your neighbours?
My last post on The Pros & Cons of Being a Digital Nomad mentioned this theme, which both has links to travelling and to non-monetary interactions.
When I saw Mark Boyle (Moneyless Man) speak a few years ago, he pointed out that money allows us to have transactions with people without even seeing them – it disconnects us. It also means that we can use money to distance ourselves from each other – if we’re rich we don’t need favours.
There are a few alternative ideas, such as a barter economy, or a gift economy. A barter economy returns us to having many communications and negotiations with a number of people in order to exchange something we can offer for something we want. A gift economy on the other hand, relies on people giving away their surplus stuff and doing favours. The idea is that if everyone acted this way, no-one would be in lack.
In many ways, I can see why people were relieved when money was invented – it meant all the faff of all these negotiations could be over. But what’s also lost along the way is the necessity to have a lots of interactions. In our current “Isolation Age”, isn’t more interaction what we need?
But how to start? My £0 Challenge in 2014 made it public that I was open to more barter and gift type interactions, but many people don’t have a doorway in like that. My first instinct is always to try and offer someone a favour or a gift, but people are so unaccustomed such things that this often freaks them out.
The key is to be the one asking for the cup of sugar. Believe it or not, asking a favour feels more vulnerable, so people are less willing to be the first to do it. I’ve noticed that many people are much more willing to give first and ask second. Asking someone for help actually creates quite a strong bond, but only if they feel they’ve genuinely helped rather than been taken for a ride. It can be the doorway to creating more barter/gift interactions in your life and this can lead to all sorts of new and unexpected connections and even friendships.
One college housemate I had used to knock on my door once a week to borrow my washing basket so he could do his laundry. I had no idea why he did this when we lived on the same street as Poundland where he could have easily bought one, but nonetheless, every week, he borrowed mine instead. Maybe he was skint? But you know what? – as a result of those weekly laundry basket encounters, we talked more. We got the idea that it was ok to knock on each other’s doors. Of everyone who I lived with in college, he’s the only one I ended up stayed in touch with.
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