I stopped at the bank yesterday to withdraw cash as several small denomination notes from my checking account to give away to random people today. I wish the currency could have been larger denomination bills, but I must try to get by on a fixed income and I have expenses to pay. Yet, I want to take part in a radical social experiment just for the experience.
Today is “Free Money Day”, the annual, global day of sharing money, started by the Post Growth Institute. The group is an organization that is investigating and advocating different means of global prosperity that do not rely upon economic growth.
I was intrigued, so I Googled the Post Growth Institute to find their website. They describe post growth as, “…building on the existing aspects of our world that are sustainable in order to create resilient futures. This includes strengthening ecologically and socially sustainable practices, while recognizing the physical limits of the earth.” This concept looks like something I can support.
So, what is “Free Money Day” about? The Post Global Institute says: “On September 15, people hand out their own money to complete strangers (two coins/notes at a time) asking the recipients to pass half on to someone else. It’s a chance to raise awareness and start conversations about the benefits of economies based on sharing, as well as offer a liberating experience to inspire more critical and creative thinking about our relationships with money and how we can have new types of economic activity.”
The idea of simply giving money to complete strangers with absolutely no strings attached is anathema to most of society. Money has a powerful emotional impact on us because we rely upon money to enable most of what we need and want out of life. The usual way we are taught to deal with money, is to acquire it and horde it.
It is difficult for many of us to give money to charity or to homeless people on the street because we believe we must know how the money will be spent. Most of us insist that the money will go towards something we believe in. In other words, we give money away with strings attached. It’s the default way we deal with it. I usually behave this way, too. After all, we worked hard for the money and we don’t want to just throw it away in vain. Times are hard, and it’s difficult enough to make our budgets stretch to meet our normal requirements.
However, the more I thought about giving money away, the more intrigued I became. I know that whenever I give money to a charitable cause, I experience the “warm fuzzies” inside. Even when I give some spare change or a buck to a homeless person in the city, I feel a twinge of happiness inside. I let go of an attachment and emotionally feel a taste of liberation. Maybe the person will buy some food with the money, maybe not. It’s not my concern, because the dollar no longer belongs to me. I relinquish control over it when I surrender it.
I expect the act of giving out a couple of dollars here and there to random people I meet today will feel similar to the act of giving to charity. What will be different is that many of the recipients will enjoy equal or greater financial status to me. This is due to the socio-economic make up of my town, and the small Nebraska town I will visit later today. I’ll encounter a wide range of people, from college students to elderly citizens.
Sure, I’ll be giving up the share of my budget that I would normally spend on luxuries this week, but I think the experience of giving away money at random will be worth it.
Because I live on a fixed income with a tight budget, I know I’ll feel some reluctance to follow through. However, I also know that after I give away the first $2, the process will begin and that giving away the remainder of my crazy cash will be easier. At least, that’s my expectation.
From a young age, we are taught that it is virtuous to share. Most of us are also taught that the sharing is best when it is unconditional. As we grow older, these lessons are often forgotten. Some people even vilify the idea of unconditional sharing. Many of us hate to pay for services that are provided to us as part of the social contract (taxation). Why would we want to just give away precious, hard-earned money to random people? The idea seems a bit perverse, doesn’t it?
In our scarcity-based culture, how can we find the gumption to give freely with love and vulnerablity to total strangers? How do we overcome the desire of wanting to hang onto what we’ve got? How do we disbelieve the belief that we are all separate from each other?
The way to cross these barriers is to confront them in the manner that anyone must confront any stubborn problem. We don’t skirt the issues. We face them head-on, then follow through and “just do it”. We don’t resort to paralysis by analysis. We don’t procrastinate. We simply forge ahead, act, then let the chips fall where they may.
These are my thoughts about “Free Money Day”. Now, I have a stack of dollar bills to get rid of.