Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide
This month at SheEO, we are focusing on delving deeper into our core value of Radical Generosity, the giving from the heart without strings attached that is an alternative economic model to the accumulation culture, the Gift Economy. To kick off, I thought I would share this essay written by SheEO Activator Denise Hearn, with help from Eko Aleck of Sacred Matriarch who describes the Indigenous origins of the Gift Economy:
“‘The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.’
— The14th Dalai Lama
“Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
‘You owe Me.’
Look what happens
with a love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.
“Radical generosity puts us in connection with one another, overcoming myths of separation and scarcity. Our drive to accumulate is based on a fear of not having enough, but SheEO’s community of radically generous women helps us recognize that we have so much more than we think we do — all we have to do is ask.
“At SheEO we start with a gift. Gifts exist to create and strengthen relationships. Activators gift their capital into a Perpetual Fund that is loaned out, paid back over 5 years and then loaned out again. It’s a pay-it-forward relationship that keeps on giving.
“Genevieve Vaughn calls this ‘The Gift Economy,’ which recognizes that each human is born into a relationship of gifting, practiced by those who mother us and enable us to survive. As babies, we cannot offer an exchange for this nurturing, and so our initial experience on earth is one of a gift, not quid-pro-quo exchange.
“The Gift Economy is something Indigenous communities have practiced around the world. In the Pacific Northwest in the US and Canada, many Indigenous communities for centuries have practiced potlatch (meaning ‘to give away’ or ‘a gift’). A Potlatch is an opulent ceremonial feast to celebrate an important event held by tribes of Northwest Indians of North America. A Potlatch is characterized by a ceremony in which possessions are given away, or destroyed, to display wealth and generosity and to enhance prestige.
Ecko Aleck of Sacred Matriarch shared the following about the Potlatch:
‘Book definitions don’t usually cover the spiritual aspect that oral teachings carry. There is a greater understanding of who we are and how we act in the world – potlatching taught us how to hold ourselves everyday. Even if you take out the Potlatch piece, Indigenous cultures teach the reciprocity of spiritual gifting and knowing that we have all we need, we are nurtured and provided for every step of our path. We develop the habit of a reciprocal relationship with our ancestors and earth, by leaving an offering (a thank you) and trusting these teachings. The act of trusting and knowing you are a part of something much bigger is a daily ceremony.
‘Potlatching was the practice of upholding Indigenous laws of the land and people. It was a ceremony, it was embodying the teachings of our ancestors in ways of knowing and being. Material items were gifted to witnesses who came to observe the important work. Material items were burned to gift the ancestors for supporting the work from the spirit world.
‘Material “wealth” is not in the sense we see in the western world – Indigenous material wealth is stories and ceremony that are ingrained in our items that we carry in the physical world. By demonstrating our wealth, we teach that there is always enough, within and around us. That we trust in the reciprocal relationship we’ve built with the land and our people to always give. That when we stand in our true gifts and visions, we are serving our community, giving back to the earth and creating a better world for the next seven generations.’
This practice of the generous distribution of resources is in the ethos of what we want to create with SheEO — where our resources are in flow to support one another in creating a new world. Living into the Gift Economy is in contrast to our current market system built on accumulation and extraction and helps us envision a new way of organizing.
Various studies have linked generosity of resources and time (volunteering, philanthropy, extending social support) to lower blood pressure, stress, and even helping people live longer. We practice radical generosity for our own healing and self-transformation. This is why radical generosity, and elevating the Gift, is our core value at SheEO.
Reflection question: What, in this moment, is the most radically generous action I can take for myself and others?”