Gift Culture

 The river never drinks its own water. The tree never tastes its own fruit. The field never consumes its own harvest. They selflessly strive for the well-being of all those around them. – Mewari proverb

Sarita kare na paan, vriksh na fal chaakhe kadi Khet na khave dhaan, parhit neepjey sekhra.

This is a story from the heart…

I recently returned from the CERES Global Rethinking Community Development Trip in India, and as so often happens, experienced that long and hard transition back into my life in Melbourne. My heart had expanded and my thoughts had decided to settle there too. Right in the centre of my chest.

On returning, my life was trying to sweep me back up, but a large part of me was resisting. My thoughts were pushing themselves back into my head, but I didn’t want them to. The deep settling I had experienced was becoming unstuck, and I willed myself to find a way to incorporate both these lived experiences together. Did they have to be mutually exclusive? The me, who sits cross legged in dusty India openly feeling my way through the world; And the me who sits in front of a screen at a desk in Melbourne analysing and thinking through the world.

Experiencing other cultures and communities, witnessing the world in new ways, meeting people gentle and humble and with generosity so big that it moves and stirs us – it challenges and changes us. This is what makes travel powerful.

I cannot go on here without mentioning thanks and gratitude to the people who stirred this trip idea and led us there in the first place. These are our friends and partners at the Bank of Ideas who organised the Asset Based Community Development Festival in Goa and  Shikshantar in Udaipur.

Both these friends call for people to lead and create their own models of development that are holistic, pluralistic, ecologically regenerative, liberating, collaborative, socially just, and anticipatory.

Weaving through all, is also their gift culture philosophy. You may have heard of it before as “gift economy”, but essentially it is a way of exchange in which things are not sold or traded, they are given freely, without the expectation of a future reward.

So I start to wonder, could this be my tool, to transition back into my life at home, to incorporate what could seem like two mutually exclusive lived experiences into one. I decide to try. I pledge to myself to be more generous, to practice giving things away, to sharing, to seeing things in my possession as not things I own, but merely things passing through my life. I start small – sharing food, giving away hugs, smiles, warmth and generosity of friendship – these things are easier because I have often done them – but now I am doing them more consciously. The next step becomes harder. In order to expand on gifting, I actually need to find out what I have to offer. What are my gifts. And once I learn what they are, I can explore all my resistances in giving them away.  I can give away objects, but I can also give away my ego, my ears to listen, my heart to understand, my hands to help. What else? I am still finding out.

I start to learn that in fact, the act of giving expands us.

Engaging in the gift culture transforms our self and world understanding by reminding us that we are being given gifts all the time from many known and unknown sources. It graciously invites us back into our sacred role as active gift-givers – from homo economicus to homo giftus. We are able to recognize and re-value our own gifts as well as those others in our own terms. (Manish, Shilpa and the Shikshantar family)

And we have already known this. Every old culture is embedded with  the ritual of sharing, a pride in great hospitality and care whether it be food, a home or welcome and friendship. Indeed the origins of the word “culture” come from the Latin word which means ‘to care’, and to cultivate. It is all interlinked. The river never drinks its own water….  Lets listen to our ancestors.

And so I will leave you with a quote.

The generosity of others moves us toward generosity ourselves. We desire to give to those who are generous. We are moved by their openness, by their vulnerability, by their trust. Gratitude, moreover, arises not just from the receiving of gifts, but also from their witnessing. (Sacred Economics)

Small acts of kindness can change the world. When we start small, with what we know, with what we are good at, we can be the change we want to see in the world. 

Much love


By | 2017-03-20T09:38:31+00:00 February 17th, 2017|CERES Global, India|4 Comments


  1. sonja February 17, 2017 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    What a great read! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jules February 17, 2017 at 11:46 pm - Reply

    Sophie..wise words so beautifully woven. A joy to read.

  3. Tim Muurhead February 22, 2017 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    Good words Sophie. And, like all good words, challenging!

  4. Maureen February 23, 2017 at 10:29 pm - Reply

    Beautiful and so inspiring, thanks so much for sharing

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