One of the most spectacular things I have seen in my lifetime is a gifting economy in wide-scale operation, at the outlier festival Burning Man. Over 60,000 people manage to thrive in a makeshift city in the desert for a week, largely without money.
The model works on mutual kindness rather than financial exchange. Although the festival requires everyone to spend money upfront to set up the infrastructure and to bring along what they need, it doesn’t really require any money whilst people are onsite for that week. Free bars, food and entertainment are just the beginning. What is really impressive is how the ecosystem develops there, over time.
In most instances, individuals find ways to give whatever it is that others might need. If your bike has a flat tyre, someone has set up a free bike repair camp. If you need a massage, someone has set up a free massage camp. If you need a shower, someone has lugged water across the desert to provide free showers. The lengths people go, to be generous to others in that place is staggering and, in many ways, belief-shattering. Whatever you need – and far more, besides – is provided through the sheer generosity and kindness of attendees. It is a self-improving, intelligent, experimental system that really works. Every year, people find a way to give more, thus creating an even more remarkable collective experience.
One of my really big dreams is to bring a permanent gifting economy to life, in the real world. One of our moonshot missions at The Dandelion Project is to bring down the long-term cost of living on our little island to zero. Yes zero. Incidentally, our island is roughly the same size in area and population as the Burning Man festival.
Now, in part, one way to deliver on that mission is to take advantage of all of the incredible new technology that is coming into the world. From electric cars and robotic farming to solar panels – there are many things already in existence that will radically reduce the cost of living. The final part of getting to zero requires a fundamental shift in consciousness towards our economic model. And for me, the mass upscaling of societal kindness is the key to achieving that.
Next week, we launch an experiment: The World’s Boldest-ever Kindness Experiment. Around 400,000 ‘pay-kindness-forward’ cards will be sent to the 30,000 homes and businesses on the island, just to see what happens. I first learnt about this concept from Nipun Mehta from the generosity incubator Service Space, who came to Guernsey as a speaker. One of their projects is smile cards that encourage people to conduct anonymous random acts of kindness and, by leaving them a pay-it-forward card, to encourage the recipients of these kindnesses to pay it forward to others, in turn. As physical artefacts, these cards stay in circulation longer and therefore spread kindness far further than ‘thoughts’ or intentions of kindness, which are transitory and can easily disappear or be forgotten.
To give you an example, I was in a local restaurant having breakfast the other day. When I went to pay, I discovered that someone had already paid for our meal and left an anonymous ‘smile card’ inviting us to do some kindness to others. We were thrilled by their generosity, and decided to pay it forward by paying for another table’s meal bill.
I happened to stay in that restaurant all day, having coffee meetings, and I watched the card being passed around, but never leave the restaurant. Hour by hour, I witnessed people’s evident delight because someone had paid for their table’s meals. They each, in turn, paid for the meals of the next table full of people. One little card made many people’s day a whole lot brighter. The staff in the restaurant also had an incredible day, since they had the wonderful task of being in the middle of these acts of generosity, explaining the good news and seeing people’s faces light up. The meals for somebody else’s table cost about the same as they would have done if you’d bought your own food, so it all came to the same figures – and yet, wonderfully, the outcome wasn’t the same at all! Solely through these acts of kindness, the whole day became so much more magical.
Having this experience gave me the idea to run an experiment to encourage the entire population of our little country to do this, and to learn from it. I hope this will bring about a shift in community culture towards more kindness and instigate a new generation of community experiments in kindness and generosity.
With this shift to kindness, along with rapid technological changes, I anticipate that we will become one of the first super-rich countries in the world to gradually let go of using money on a day-to-day basis. And in doing that, we will become a far happier and healthier nation, as a result.
Follow the experiment as it happens next week – here is a short video by John Sweeney who will be over with us in Guernsey creating kindness mischief https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeSCQsgwcvM
Be kind. It is good for you!
P.P.S. Listen here to my 2nd ever podcast http://coffeefromtheedge.com/episode-2-john-sweeney/ with worldwide kindness movement founder John Sweeney from Suspended Coffees. John will be speaking at TEDxYouth@StPeterPort on the 18th of February.