The Gift Economy

ALLAN DAVID SMITH-REEVE – She wondered “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” We were having breakfast with a friend of Bedford House. Catching up and pondering the future.

She’s planned for her retirement years and has a sense of economic security for her future.  She’s been led to now “invest” in her community instead of growing a bigger and bigger nest-egg for herself.

Our friend has arranged for pre-authorized monthly contributions to support the work of other Bedford House friends living with inadequately low-incomes.  We pay a consultant’s fee to low-income participants for the teaching they provide us “over-resourced” Bridging Team members.

As we ponder over eggs and coffee the question of “how do we get from here to there?”, we remind ourselves of recent scientific studies about the wealth redistribution system of beech forests.  

Lynn bought me “The Hidden Life of Trees” for Christmas. Peter Wohlleben reports his research, telling us a story about how a beech forest will redistribute energy to the weaker, or less-able forest members – old and young – so that every leaf in the forest shows an equal ability to photosynthesize. This is accomplished by a complex underground system of roots and fungi that ensure each tree receives all it needs to grow into the best tree it can be.

“A tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it” (pg 17)

Forests replanted in rows of single species monoculture don’t have this ability. Only diverse eco-systems perform in this way.  

Our current economic belief story is challenged by these new discoveries.  Darwin’s scientific observations of the last century – the survival-of-the-fittest hypothesis – has underscored an economic justification for might-is-right as “nature’s way”.  With hubris we see ourselves as individual trees instead of simply leaves of a forest.

Our forest kin have reminded us of another economy that folks used for thousands of years to sustain their villages.  Taking care of old and young, differently-abled and diseased members of the eco-system reflects the naturally cooperative nature of our species.  Somewhere we forgot how to do this naturally.  

How do we get from here to there? Can we begin to understand ourselves as leaves in a forest?  Each of us “photosynthesizing” what we need – not only for ourselves – or even our own branches – but for the health of the whole ecosystem/economy?  

What is the coinage of this new realm?  

My neighbour, after years of being sidelined from the economy by workplace injuries, has found a new purpose.  He’s a talented bike mechanic.  We share stories across balconies where he’s spied a retractable awning that I bought on sale and never installed.  He’s also done work on my old bike and knows it needs an overhaul.  He offers me a trade.  A reconditioned bike for my awning, under which he could work outside at Green City Bikes this summer.

Instead of calculating dollars and dimes, we calculate the value of our neighbours’ quality of life.  How might my abundance contribute to my neighbour’s well-being?  How might my neighbour’s talents contribute to my well-being? 

How might we translate this kind of coinage systemically?  Surely with our advanced communication systems where funds are redistributed at lightning speed, we can figure out how to redistribute abundance?  Why haven’t we?  

Trees send energy impulses to one another at the speed of an inch every three seconds. A thousand-and-one, a-thousand-and-two, a-thousand-and-three – is slower than any Tai Chi master might move.  Perhaps our community redistribution networks need to grow at the speed of relationships.  

Taking the time to create spaces where hospitality, curiosity, and dignity nurture mutual relationships is what Bridging Teams are all about.  For more info see

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.