Reclaiming Gift Culture

What are the different traditions of the gift culture around the world? How can we bring the gift culture practically into our lives, communities, organizations?  What do we need to unlearn for the gift culture to manifest? What miracles can happen when we approach the world from a spirit of deep gratitude, empathy and trust? How is gift culture an essential part of a larger vision of social change and a new story for the planet?
 
In 2008, Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development (Udaipur, India) published “Reclaiming the Gift Culture” as a healthy antidote to the global push to commodify everything. The anthology features over 25 different authors.
 
In the spirit of intercultural dialogue, they offer stories, insights and conceptual frameworks around gift cultures from India, Mexico, Mali, Bolivia, Ukraine, Iran, Australia, the US, and more.  From big picture entries on shifting from Homo Economicus to Homo Giftus and the diversity of Solidarity Economies, to practical manifestations for regenerating the commons such as the Bhoodan land-gift movement to Wikipedia to an organization based entirely on service and random acts of kindness, the book opens the door to exploring gift culture at many levels.
 
Rethinking our dependency on the money system and alternative currencies being only one of the levels of how to ‘Be the Gift’ we want to share in the world. Gift culture has powerful implications for how we see and experience education, food, waste, energy, conflict, love, and many other seemingly mundane aspects of life. 
 
Satish Kumar puts it simply: “When we write a poem we make a gift. When we paint a picture or build a beautiful house we make a gift. When we grow flowers and cook food we make a gift. When all these activities are performed as sacred acts, they nourish society. When we are unselfconscious, unacquisitive, and act without desire for recognition or reward, when our work emerges from a pure heart like that of a child, our actions become a gift, dana...”
 

A free class at the Dana Cafe in Oakland, CA

The book seeks to invite skeptics into an authentic dialogue. As Amy Mall, one of the contributors, writes, “One may ask, ‘Why should I engage in gift culture, if I can afford not to?’ My question is, ‘Can you really afford not to?’” By not engaging in the gift culture, and instead only depending on money, don’t we limit personal health, happiness and the joy of community life? Perhaps, we are desensitized to these losses and are willing to trade them in without much examination. This may be why our basic needs for healthy organic food, caring relationships and self-expression are viewed as ‘luxuries’.”  
 
“Reclaiming the Gift Culture” also invites a deeper look into the transformative power of the gift, as it touches both giver and receiver, as they dance together throughout a gift culture encounter.  As Nitin Paranjape writes of his journey, “The question of why I feel awkward when receiving gifts might be related to the fact that I don’t like to be seen as vulnerable. Being at the receiving end of someone’s generosity is definitely one such moment! I think it’s time to change. Being vulnerable in front of others is an invitation to share a private moment. I realize the tremendous power of the gift culture. Creating a space of intimacy not only deepens our community bond, but also helps us to discover our inner worlds and to transform ourselves.”
 
Nearly six years since the book’s publishing, its expressions and stories still provide inspiration and guidance for building gift cultures more broadly and deeply in our world. The book recently helped give birth to Giftival - the Gift Culture Festival which was held in Turkey in 2013.
 
You can download the entire book from Shikshantar as a PDF and  gift here. Or can contact the books’ editors, Manish Jain and Shilpa Jain, to learn more.
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