Currency Exchange

“You’ve got money stuffed in your mattress, don’t you?” joked our financial planner, after discovering my distrust of imaginary constructs like the stock market.

Distrust doesn’t stop me from having a 401K, but I’d much rather invest in something that I can see and touch with my own hands. Like land. And food. And crackhouses.

Monetary transactions also feel inexplicably crass to me, and I finally heard a good explanation for why that is.

Here’s author and TED speaker Simon Sinek on the subject:

The feeling of fulfillment comes from the exertion of time and energy for someone else. If you’re walking to work, and you throw a few pennies in a cup, and you come to work and say to your friends, “Hey, guys, I gave a dollar to somebody homeless this morning.” What are your friends going to say? “Uhhh, good.” Right?  “I gave twenty bucks to somebody homeless.” They’ll be like, “Good for you.” But what if you come in the morning and say, “Hey, I gave up my Saturday, and I went and painted a school in the inner city.” People will go, “Whoa, cool. Wow.”

And all of a sudden, not only are they inspired to do something good themselves, but the feeling that you have persists. The amazing thing is that when we do good for others, it actually inspires others to do good for others …

The problem is we’ve replaced that feeling, the exertion of time and energy, with digital communications. We’ve replaced it with headphones. We’ve replaced it with money. Think about the invention of money. It used to be you’d go to someone’s house, you’d cook them dinner, and the deal was they’ll do the dishes. Time and energy in exchange for time and energy. Then someone said ‘I’ll give you an I.O.U. I don’t feel like doing the dishes, so I’m going to give you an I.O.U. that I promise to do them another day.’

And that’s what money is. The promise for future goods and services …

We’ve replaced our own time and energy with promises for someone else to do it another day. There’s no exertion of time and energy. And so the feeling people get is that I did something for you and you did nothing for me. You replaced it with a piece of paper.

It’s funny, then, that a couple of bartering opportunities have presented themselves recently — the most delightful of which was the exchange of some of my home-preserved food for pottery from a friend who’s a kickass artist and gallery director.

So many of our friends are dripping with talent, and it feels like I’m giving the short end of the stick when I whip out a checkbook to buy their latest book/CD/graphic novel/photograph. Like I’m not doing enough to repay them for making the world a better place with their art.

But this time was different. It was so much more fun to be engaged in the process. She wanted pickles. I wanted pottery. And that’s where the magic began.

Now I’ll think of Hannah every time I wash my hands with soap resting in that new dish or reach for her vase to grab my toothbrush. And she’ll hopefully think of me (without cursing) when biting into those face-melting, tart pickles.

When was the last time a twenty-dollar bill made you feel that good?

Who knows what other bartering options might be in our future. Canning services in exchange for fresh food, for our overworked farmer friends? Three-course dinners in exchange for poetry readings? Tabletop herb gardens in exchange for … heck, I don’t know. Make me an offer.

And let’s see if we can make transactions more about interactions with the people in our lives.

Watch Simon Sinek’s “Love Your Work” here:

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