[Note: Adapted from the new book Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community, and the Common Good, by Cecile Andrews. The following piece was also posted on Resilience.org]
Not long ago I was invited to a clothing swap. I didn’t really know the people, so I felt a little awkward. But I did know one person there and she walked me through it. Essentially, I could take anything I wanted. I only took a few things because I’m really a committed minimalist, but — not surprising — the best thing about it was standing around and chatting with the other women.
I realized that the new sharing revolution gives us lots of new ways to interact with others and build community. And this, it turns out, is incredibly important because research shows that the biggest contributor to happiness and well being is social connection.
Unfortunately, as we know, our culture encourages consumerism, which leads to emotional isolation. Instead of turning to each other for help or fulfillment, we turn to things. We buy ourselves out of dilemmas instead of helping each other. We spend our time enjoying things instead of other people.
So sharing is attractive because it makes us happy. But it is even more significant than that! It’s not a big step between swapping clothes and creating a healthier democracy!
Sharing and Trust
So how does this work?
When people first hear about the sharing revolution, they’re excited. But then they start to worry. What will happen if they lend out a power saw and someone gets hurt? Will the person sue? What if someone rents your car and gets in an accident.Who pays? We discover that we’re not very trusting of others.
What’s important, though, is that at last we’re confronting the issue of trust. Apparently, trust is a significant measure of the health of a society, and it’s been on the decline. As trust declines, we quit believing in each other; we don’t feel safe because we trust no one. So essentially, we quit believing in democracy, because democracy means trusting in the people. And without democracy we will not survive — continuing to believe in the idea of “Every man for himself ” really means “Last man standing.”
Ultimately, sharing with others helps you feel like you belong. This is how you build up trust. We trust people more when we’ve shared something with them; so the more people share, the more we trust.
Sharing and the Government
Ultimately, sharing is more than just about stuff! It can become a new way of looking at life. For instance, let’s look at the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
In other words, government itself is a form of sharing! It’s coming together to do things that are better done together than done alone. Having a fire station is a form of sharing. We can’t each fight our own fires. The same with police, with roads, and on and on. Sharing is at the heart of civilized society.
Maybe the sharing movement will help us better understand that government is a way that people come together to share in the tasks of caring for each other. We’ll begin to see that taxes are a form of sharing the costs of taking care of a country’s people. Maybe we’ll learn to share the jobs and the wealth; ultimately, we need to share power —create more equality —as they’ve done in places like Denmark, a country that is ranked one of the most egalitarian, happy, and sustainable countries in the world.
Maybe the sharing movement will help us challenge the right- wing attempts to privatize everything — from social security and medicare to schooling and health. We say we believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so we need to help people understand that the pursuit of happiness involves caring and collaborating with each other; that sharing gives us freedom from control by the corporate consumer society; that you feel truly free only when you can feel secure from worries that you will someday find yourself alone and abandoned. When you know people believe in sharing and caring.
Sharing as a Subversive Activity
The idea of sharing, then, is much more significant that it first appears— it’s subversive to a cold, uncaring culture. It’s more than sharing stuff, it’s sharing our lives. It’s a dramatic challenge to our selfish, cutthroat culture that seems to value profit more than people.
Fortunately, the sharing movement looks so benign and innocent! Who could object to someone sharing their tools or a ladder? It doesn’t look revolutionary.
So for awhile, maybe we can fly beneath the radar, because when you start thinking about sharing, it leads to revolutionary ideas like profit sharing, participatory budgeting, or cooperatives and worker-owned businesses. And that’s going to scare the powers that be.
Ultimately sharing may be one of the most subversive things we can engage in.
Cecile Andrews is the author of Circle of Simplicity, Slow is Beautiful, Less is More, and the new Living Room Revolution. She is a community educator and holds a doctorate in education from Stanford University. She divides her time between Seattle and Santa Cruz CA, where she is a member of Walnut Commons Cohousing.
To find out more about the Sharing Revolution, go to www.shareable.net.