Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Gratitude Economy

Jo Hunter Adams

In the U.S., it’s clear that wealth can be slavery, just as extreme poverty is slavery. Jesus talks about the challenge of wealth constantly. But it’s sometimes hard to think about what counts as wealth, and at what point one becomes enslaved. The Boston Faith and Justice Network put together a panel called The Gratitude Economy, where three people, from very different backgrounds, spoke about gratitude and generosity.

It was clear that there are an infinite number of definitions of wealth, but the point of the panel for me was that:
a) Going against the prevailing U.S. culture when it comes to wealth is super difficult.
b) There’s huge freedom that comes with setting yourself apart in your approach to wealth.

It’s fairly obvious that it's important not to be obsessed or in love with wealth. But I think that kind of attachment to wealth is subtly different from setting yourself apart from an materially inflated culture. It's much harder for me to set myself apart--As a South African in the United States, I don’t think my main struggle has been with loving money. I think my main struggle is in the expectation that one’s standard of living gradually improves. Certain things make it easier: My church and my work don't place huge focus on wealth, or even particular styles of clothing or particular standards of living. There's plenty of socio-economic diversity in both places.

So the two main messages from the gratitude economy involved a reframing: From feeling short-changed or self-righteous when your lifestyle doesn't keep up with your expectations, to feeling free to pursue everything else that's out there. What is out there? Generosity, gratitude, full use of major material blessings (my ipod touch comes to mind!) and less pressure to work for the paycheck alone.