In this season of hyper-spending and debt accumulation under the guise of holiday giving, I am always intrigued by those who have found creative and less stressful ways to engage in meaningful gift exchanges that don’t break the bank. At this past Friday night Sabbath meal, we had someone new around the table. She introduced me to a fabulous and really simple concept I hadn’t heard of before. It isn’t new – and many major world religions prescribe it to some degree. It’s not exactly easy to find though when living and doing business in a capitalist economy.
My guest was telling me about her brother’s new age book store in downtown Toronto. The store didn’t only sell books on spiritual healing but it also offered workshops, sessions, lecture series and community gatherings in-house with healers on everything from Reiki, Kundalini Yoga and other meditations, to Kabbalah, drum circles, movie nights and more. When they opened the store about 9 months ago, they understandably charged money for people to take part in these sessions. The result was not what they hoped for. Healers – interested in spreading the word about their work — had a tough time finding ways to advertise and interest from the public was inconsistent. Sometimes they were full, other times empty – leaving business at the bookstore equally inconsistent. Not a great start for a new business.
Then someone suggested our they try changing the economic model of his bookstore/workshop business from a “market” model to a “gifting” model – essentially an alternative to the market or even the bartering/trading economy. Instead of having people pay for the workshops, etc. everything would now be free – with the idea that both “healer” and “receiver” — benefit from this exchange of knowledge and human contact/energy. In academic circles, it’s well understood that nobody benefits if we keep our knowledge to ourselves. A tough sell when you have rent to pay though – especially in downtown Toronto.
I went down to check out the store and speak to owner Rezo Mekvabishvilli about the move and the impact of essentially offering free services. He said business has markedly improved with the gifting model. Gatherings were consistently full and so was his bookstore. He says philosophically, it also worked best for an alternative bookstore like his. That the change from “market” model to “gift” model improved team spirit and acted as a sort of equalizer for everyone there – changing the hierarchical focus from the master-seeker relationship to simply, the practice. Rezo says that in an open-source world, people are increasingly open to the idea.
Author and consultant Gifford Pinchot wrote that “Not all economics are based on maximizing personal gain – some are founded on giving.” and that the gift economy is actually “part of the pathways to a sustainable economy.” However, its success depends in part on changing many of our deeply held beliefs around success. Essentially, it’s about taking pride in our contributions as opposed to our pride in our possessions. Food for thought as we head into the holidays.
For more on this particular bookstore: www.alternative-thinking.com