2015 Update: A revised version of this essay is in my new book, which is titled
An Economy Based in Love and Service
Someone who does work they love in an alternative field—work they feel is needed in the community—should be paid fairly. Herbalist, craftsperson, psychic, shaman, doula, political activist . . . The work of choice might be in a spiritual, creative, political, or other field.
Dentalia shells were currency in ancient California. Malcolm Margolin wrote that shamans there would imagine sweeping up huge piles of dentalia earned in their shamanic “careers.” This visualization was actually part of their training.
But today many people think loving service and money are innately at odds. They scold anyone in alternative careers for not doing all their work for free or at such a low cost that they cannot live on it. However, the logical conclusion of that is frightening! Unless our economy is about doing paid work we love for people we love, we are stuck in a business world where many people do jobs they hate for people they hate. A marketplace based in paid loving service can thrive and save mother earth.
This can work if we know when to work for free, and to otherwise have love and money both honored in appropriate ways. I DO a lot for free and for low cost. I also charge high prices for other work. There is room – – and need – – to give your gift for free. No question about it. And you may have certain things you only do for free. That may be right too. That is part of life.
As to EXCHANGING services or goods, it is wonderful. I do it when I can. But, again, some people insist people with alternative careers should always accept a trade. Fact is, trade is just another form of currency. I have a limited amount of energy. I need money to pay for things like a roof over my head. If I trade for all my services and goods, I will not have energy to earn money to pay for housing and the like. So I accept trade when I can, especially when someone cannot afford otherwise.
It seems that many folks who insist that, in a truly alternative culture, we ALWAYS accept trade, are folks with enough money to afford it. In which case, trade becomes part of a class-based economy!
Trade is not a substitute for money yet. When all the economy is trade, that will be another story. But, as I said, a trade-based marketplace could still be class-based, so trade alone is not a solution. It must go hand in hand with the idea that loving service should merit a respectable fee. The argument that, in a progressive economy, we always accept a trade lacks logic: Currently, the logical result of accepting all trade, for most folks, is to be homeless and hungry. That is not a spiritual outcome. 🙂 Folks who insist on it can often afford high prices for cars, computers, etc., but won’t pay that for spiritual support, hand-crafted goods, or other alternative services. Hmm, what altar do they worship at? Dentalia (aka money) was a form of respect for a shaman’s help. Giving money in some situations = giving respect and love. Uh–huh.
What is a reasonable fee? That question leads to “What is a reasonable net income?,” which leads to “What income amounts to bounty?” Thorough answers are outside the bounds of this essay, but the following points are relevant. Matthew Fox says, there is enough for everyone to live bountifully, as long as no one is greedy. Some standards of living are just plain old greedy, and create an economy in which one person is wealthy while others go poor. A sane standard of living is needed by anyone who wants to earn their livelihood in an alternative service career.
Many steps along my career path, when trying to do what my Gods asked of me, I had to forsake the profitable to be of more service. I never said, “I will be poor,” but I chose to risk it to be of maximum service. I believe this risk is important. If we put money above service, we become trapped by money. And because of my risks, I have gotten to do the work I love and be of service. I can look back at a long life to say I have had an amazing adventure this lifetime.
Mind you, a risk is just that: a risk. But serious fallout can happen no matter what choices you make. Equally important, my commitment to service helped me triumph over any problems that did arise.
Let me be clear, putting service first is not the same as being a doormat or forsaking your reasonable payment because someone uses the idea of service to guilt trip or otherwise manipulate you. Service coming first is also not the same as being free of charge for every person who cannot afford you, if more approach you than you can manage. You only have so many hours in the day, so may have to learn to make difficult and perhaps painful decisions about how much you can do for free without burning out and, hence, being of no use to anyone!
Being paid = I could work full time using a gift that Spirit said I was to use full time. I was given a shamanic gift that has saved lives, made other lives worth living. I’ve helped trauma survivors. Many happy high-functioning leaders do what they do a lot better because of my lessons, and thus they are able to be of greater service, which means my being paid dominoes into yet more service being done.
We can build an economy where things done for free are honored, and where trade is pivotal because it is used appropriately. But we also need to build an economy of paid loving service. Remember the shaman’s dentalia. Money and love can be in union. We can thrive financially and spiritually. Let go of conflict. Be in the union of all things. ALL things.
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