The Return-Gift of Gratitude - The Josephine Porter Institute

The Return-Gift of Gratitude

In Lewis Hyde's book The Gift, he talks about how a gift demands not a market exchange of its dollar value, but a "return-gift." This was an enduring source of misunderstanding when market economy minds came to the New World. They would offer some beads to the so-called "savages." The natives would offer precious items like a peace pipe. What was fundamentally misunderstood was how precious these items were from the indigenous community. When they would return months (or years) later and find that same precious item on a mantlepiece, they would be outraged and take the gift back. Why? Because a gift only remains a gift if it keeps on giving. Like living water, it must keep being given and with it, the story of all the relationships it solidified makes its value grow. The pedigree of a gift grants it its incalculable value: the peace it solidified between warring factions, between rival brothers, between newcomers and the indigenous community. From this the European notion of "indian giving" arose, since there was almost no concept of a gift-economy centering around such relics in the puritan impulse that colonized North America.

If we accept that life is already more than we merit -- and how could we merit life, since to merit anything we must first, presumably, be alive? -- then the universe demand is not a dollar value but rather graciousness. As sufi Charles Upton remarks, Islam is "all courtesy." If only we could live such a way in gardening and in relationship with others. To try to buy something that is really a gift is to objectify it, to kill it. Simon the Sorcerer tried to do this with the gift of the Holy Spirit, but this is something we must avoid doing in biodynamics. We must remember we owe more than we can give and embrace gratefully the bounty the Earth gladly surrenders to us.

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