Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Linchpins and Gift Cultures

I can’t decide how I feel about Seth Godin. Most days, I enjoy his blog. Some days, I feel like I’m reading the same blogpost over and over. I recently picked up Linchpin from the library, which was filled with some good stuff and some stuff that seemed so obvious as to not be worth spending time on. Of course, the older I get, the more I realize that information that’s obvious to me isn’t always obvious to everyone else.

And some of the obvious stuff is worth repeating. The section “The Resistance,” about all the mindsets which might sabotage us, is worth reading again and again on a regular basis.

I especially liked his section “The Powerful Culture of Gifts,” a section which seems particularly relevant to poets. Many people have commented on how poetry really seems to be more of a gift economy than anything else. It’s hard to translate poetry into money, but when we move away from wanting to do that, our experiences become that much richer. I’ve met many poets because we’ve written to each other and exchanged books or done readings together. I’ve met many more through their blogs.

Here are some choice quotes from that section:

--“Giving a gift makes you indispensable. Inventing a gift, creating art—that is what the market seeks out, and the givers are the ones who earn our respect and attention. Shepard Fairey didn’t seek to monetize the Obama Hope poster. He gave it away with a single-minded obsession. The more copies he gave away, the closer he came to achieving his political, personal, and professional goals.” (page 151)

--“The magic of the gift system is that the gift is voluntary, not part of a contract. The gift binds the recipient to the giver, and both of them to the community. A contract isolates individuals, with money as the connector. The gift binds them instead.” (page 154)

--“A critical underpinning at AA is that no money changes hands. There’s no central organization collecting dues, no fee to attend a meeting, no payments from one member to another. The act of helping a fellow alcoholic for free has two effects: First it brings the giver and the recipient closer together, creating a tribe. And second, it creates an obligation for the recipient. Not an obligation to reciprocate, because she really can’t and it’s not expected, but an obligation to help the next person. And so the movement grows.” (page 159)

--He talks about the circles in which we move: our friends and families vs. the circles of commerce vs. the circle of our tribe, which we largely have because of the Internet (our Facebook friends, the friends of those friends).

--He reminds us that gifts come back to us in unexpected ways, and we get to enjoy them twice (or more!).

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