Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gift Of The Givers

We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it - Wendell Berry

Let us be clear; the purpose of non-accumulation is not to exculpate oneself from the crimes of a money based civilization. That is merely ego. You don't get virtue points for poverty; non-accumulation is not a goal in and of itself. The goal is to enjoy true wealth, the wealth of connection and flow; rather than the counterfeit wealth of having. But what if you have wealth beyond what you can share in the ordinary flow of life?

To the conscientious person, such wealth might seem to be more a burden than a gift. We are bound, and we are pleased, to make right use of what we have been given. Wealth is no exception. Those who are blessed and cursed with a lot of it have no more reason to abdicate its duties than anyone has to spurn the gifts, responsibilities, and opportunities to serve that we are each born with.

Excess wealth, whether inherited from family or from an earlier time in one's own life, carries with it a desire to use it well. It is a dharma, a call to service. The challenge of excess wealth is to give of it in a way that is beautiful. This is the kind of investment that is aligned with a future economy in which status comes from giving, not having; and security comes not from accumulation, but from being a nexus of flow.

Can we do away with the word and concept of investment altogether? Consider its etymology: it means to clothe, as in to take naked money and put it into new vestments, something material, something real in the physical or social realm. Money is naked human potential-creative energy that has not yet been "clothed" with material or social constructions. True investment is to array money in sacred vestments: to use it to create, protect and sustain the things that are becoming sacred to us today. These are the same things that will form the backbone of tomorrow's economy.

How obvious it is that sacred investing has little to do with turning a profit. If you want to help the village, then give a woman a cow. Or if her dignity demands it, lend the money at zero interest (which is a gift of the use of money). If you care more about increasing your monetary wealth instead, then do that instead and forget the pretense. The saying is true: you cannot serve two masters. In both the examples, at some point the conflicting agendas come to the surface; and one must choose. But, this choice will no longer pertain in a sacred economy - the two will be united.

If you want to create a world of gratitude, a world of the gift, you can start by using today's money; while it still exists, to create more gratitude in the world. If we have a large enough reservoir of gratitude, then our society can withstand practically anything. Again, we live in a world of fundamental abundance that we have, through our beliefs and habits, rendered artificially poor. So badly have we damaged planet and spirit that it will require a full outpouring of all our gifts to heal it. The outpouring of gifts comes from gratitude. Therefore, the best investment you can make with your money is to generate gratitude. It doesn't matter if the gratitude recognizes you as the giver.

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