Friday, April 28, 2006

Thinking about Giving

Thinking About Giving

What actually lives in the gesture of a gift?

The most outstanding characteristic of a gift is that it increases in value when it is given. Value is, of course, a complicated subject, but it can also be simple and personal. Suppose it is winter, and you have an infrequently-worn warm coat in your closet. If you were to give that coat to someone who has none, then the value of that coat has increased drastically because of its increased usefulness, regardless of its original cost or sentimental value. Value depends upon the perspective from which it is viewed and is definitely relative­—to our feelings, perceptions, and historical context.

Something else important is happening within this picture. The coat was hanging in a closet, out of circulation you could say, maybe even in cold storage or mothballs. Once given, it is now moving about in the world providing bodily warmth and helping someone focus on their life tasks instead of the condition of being cold. This picture presumes a kind of ideal world in which the human being is valued more highly than material goods.

Money, especially gift money, works in a similar way. Money, which has been heavily or continuously used either for purchase or investment, or held in “cold storage” such as land or real estate where its primary purpose is an increase in monetary value, needs to be renewed by enabling human capacity for envisioning or forming the future. And, this enabling must be done without any expectation of monetary return. Where money makes possible the furtherance of human capacity, money is given, in a sense, a new life. Its value has increased for benefit of culture and humanity rather than for the benefit of its giver.

There is a secondary aspect of this gift transaction that is equally important. That is, how is the gift received? A gift usually comes with an intention. If the recipient acknowledges the intention, feels responsible to it, then they have in a sense met the giver half way. In this act, a spiritual link, almost like a handshake, between the past and the future is created. This link is also a critical part of the increased value of the gift, a transformation from monetary or trade value to human value.

John Bloom © 2006

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Money and Human Behavior

Money and Human Behavior

There was a very revealing article in the NYT, Friday, April 7, 2006, p. A22, titled "Study Links Punishment To An Ability to Profit." The full study appeared the same day in Science. To quote the essence of the article: "Given a choice, most people playing an investment game created by the researchers initially decided to join a group that did not penalize its members. But almost all of them quickly switched to a punitive community when they saw that the change could profit them personally."

This raises all sorts of questions about how and why we are driven by self-interest when money is involved. It also speaks to the benefit to all when governance is clear and consequential. To tie the outcomes to a monetary incentive magnifies the power of the concept. Economics, the field that focuses on how we meet each others physical needs, thrives when the awareness of interdependence is at the fore. In this context, one works to meet others' needs as others are working to meet yours. This can be scaled to both local and global levels. As the NYT article makes abundantly clear, this is not how we are wired to think as economic citizens. Still, a system in which the rules are fair and equally applied, and each person is given the tools to enforce those rights, is better than the world of disenfranchisement and wealth disparity in which those with the wealth also create and manage the rules. While the laboratory was a simple investment game, it points to the need for a real balance between self-interest and community interest.

John Bloom © 2006

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Qualities of Money and Transactions

The Qualities of Money and Transactions

Not all money is the same. Much depends on how you use it, the intentions you have for it, and the agreement that you have with the recipient. The money we use for purchases moves very quickly and is simply an exchange of money for goods or services of equal value as we assess it as a consumer. A purchase always happens in the present and certainly does not necessitate having a relationship with the person or store selling the goods, though it certainly adds to the quality of the process. The inner barometer of this equal exchange is the question that we seem programmed to ask ourselves: Am I getting my money's worth? This is, of course, a loaded question.

Money that we loan to someone has a different quality altogether. When you make a loan you are automatically in a mutual relationship with that person. You will find yourself interested in what they do with the money and how you will be paid back. You would likely want to help the person succeed because you are dependng on their success. The mutuality is not instantaneous as in a purchase, but rather slower as determined by the agreement which could be an hour or thirty years. The loan and its repayment is related to a financial event that happened in the past.

The third primary kind of money and transaction is one of gifts. When you make a gift you are giving up control of the money to someone else, so there is not a necesary financial relationship with the recipient. The clue to understanding probably lies in exploring what motivated the gift, and what the giver recognizes in the recipient as a capacity. Because the giver releases control of the gift it operates outside of any predictable time frame and is also subject to 100% risk. Thus gifts are related to the future; they are given to create new activity, new insights, research, artistic exploration and the like.

The qualities of money--purchase, loan and gift have direct correlation to time in the present, past and future. This is one of the small mysteries of money and its qualities as practiced in our transactions.

© 2006

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Changing your relationship to money

Changing Your Relationship to Money

If you are interested in changing your relationship to money try the following exercise:

Sit quietly and imagine yourself at a moment of the day in which you are transacting a purchase. As you work with the imagination make sure to widen your awareness to the full context, the place, the people, the sounds, etc. Then try to imagine the money out of the situation. Send it away from you. Then broaden the inner request to begin to imagine your life with no money at all in any context. What remains? What feelings come up? How do you inwardly begin to cope with the circumstances?

Try this a few times. It is not easy. After you are really able to rid your imagined world of money and what remains is really visible to you, try describing it and how it might work. How would you survive?

When you have created the money-free environment and have some comfort in it, begin to invite money back into your life--slowly at first so that you can observe the process, your feeelings, your preferences and predilections, etc. Be gentle with yourself.

© 2006