Improving our Community for Its Own Sake
— By Tam Mengine
Recently, whether at work, with friends, or certainly when succumbing to the lure of the internet, I find that I am audience to a complex web of debates. Debates about the root cause of the world’s problems: the economic recession, the high price of gasoline, corporate conglomerates, the entitlement of today’s youth. Debates on how to solve these problems: localization, globalization, technological advances, a return to agrarianism. Debates over who is best equipped to tackle the challenges looming in our peripheral vision: the Occupy movement, the Transition movement, the Tea Party, Barack Obama. And finally, debates on the reason why it is so essential that we take action, and create change in our community: to halt climate change, to face peak oil, to address the healthcare crisis, to save the children, and the forests, and the owls, and the whales. It’s easy to get involved in the debates, easy to get wrapped up in intuitive glimpses that evolve into opinions that seem worth fighting for.
As I listen to the debates, I repeatedly conclude that the actions we take are more important than our motivations, and that sometimes quite disparate motivations lead to very similar courses of action. I suspect that the answer to the increasing gridlock that seems to be plaguing our towns, our nation, and our planet could lie in finding some mutual ground to share, and then finding ways to expand upon it. So I am going to make a stab at doing just that: Can most people agree that it feels good to know the names and maybe a little something about our neighbors? Can most people agree that there are many tasks in day to day life that are easier and more fun when shared with a friend? Can most people agree that it feels good to be able to lend someone a hand when they need it? Can most people agree that it feels good to be able to get help from a neighbor we need it, without feeling “indebted”?
Enter my experience with the Timebank. I’ve been a member for almost one year, and this year has enriched me. I gave needed physical exams to a neighbor’s aging cats, and learned that our kids are close in age and enjoy playing together – now it seems I’m seeing their family all over town, and we are becoming friends. As an added bonus, I’ll be getting a much needed massage from a certified massage therapist with the timedollar I earned examining the cats. I offered someone suggestions on how to keep their beagle from jumping up their countertops, and hey, it turns out she just got chicks and in a few months she’ll have eggs to sell, and I’ve been looking for a source of fresh, local eggs. Using the timedollar I earned for beagle training, I’m having a skilled baker make my daughter’s birthday cake, and it turns out that her “specialty” is the chocolate chip cake that my daughter had been asking for. It also turns out that she lives only a few blocks away, and has pets that might someday need my services. I went out of town for Christmas and felt terrible that I forgot to leave a check for my dogsitter, until she said, “No worries just pay me in Timedollars.” I could go on with the examples, but hopefully I’ve given enough to illustrate my point. The Timebank gives me a chance to help my neighbors with problems that I am practiced in solving, but that are challenging to them. It allows me to ask favors of strangers, without feeling that I am taking advantage of them, because I know I will pay them in time dollars. It allows me to find company when it’s time to undertake certain drudgeries that I am dreading, and instead turns them into quality social time. And it helps me – a shy, introverted working mom without a lot of time to socialize – make new friends among the many interesting, caring people in my neighborhood that I might otherwise have never met.
What else is the Timebank doing? Well, I suppose it is helping folks get through the recession by giving them a means of exchange for services that they otherwise couldn’t afford. I suppose it is promoting social justice by illustrating the fact that my hour of veterinary consulting is equal to another’s hour of baking is equal to another’s hour of massage therapy, and so forth. I suppose it’s helping to combat the petroleum and climate change crises by encouraging people to stay local when exchanging services. I suppose it is helping to reduce consumerism and garbage production, with initiatives such as the Share, Sell, Sway, Buy facebook group, or the Media Tool Share shed that is in the works. But whether or not you agree that any of the above are really problems worth solving, it is hard to debate that the Timebank helps strengthen and build our community in simple, tangible ways. Isn’t that worth pursuing for its own sake?
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