Getting down with the Joneses

Isn’t it more fun to party with your neighbors than compete with them? A blessing of this recession – and a lesson most learn through doing the practices in Your Money or Your Life – is that community awaits with open arms once you let go of the lonely, unwinnable game of trying to impress other people with your stuff. Here are four ways life gets better when we get down with the Joneses:

A resource shared is a cost cut in half – and a joy doubled

Share your lawnmower, share your house, share your woes – in all cases the cost of living goes down and the joy of living goes up. I just bought a 2000 SF house with a friend. It’s got two private “wings” and a common area. We each had enough savings to pay for half, and now we each get to own a home with a water/mountain view in my wonderful island village. The house itself was a repo (good old bargain hunting) going for half market value, so I’m a lucky homeowner for probably a third of what others might pay to live here. You can share the resource of listening and love too. I have two dear long-time friends and I talk with each on the phone nearly every week. They – and I – are all skilled coaches. Whoever needs a thorough listening gets it. We support one another with empathy, respect, good questions and recollection of prior times this issue was faced. I call it co-coaching, and my life is richer by far by this giving and receiving – even though each of us could pay big bucks to get “professional” help. This is true of information as well. You can share and share it and it never diminishes – in fact, it usually expands as each person adds new facts.

It doesn’t have to be mine for me to enjoy it

A growing movement on my island is gardening on other people’s land. Several market gardeners profitably produce lush, local vegetables on land they don’t own – and that the owners are happy to share for a share of the food. As for flowers, I learned years ago that I could try to emulate gardens I envy, or just walk around enjoying them and praising the gardeners while my yard turned to moss. Expanding that insight, I now enjoy others’ clothes (I don’t have to wear them), others’ homes (I don’t have to buy them – or clean them) and even others’ families (I don’t have to own cousins and aunts to feel part of the warmth). Let go of hoarding – and the bounty of life’s beauties just pours over you.

This also applies to public services. Books don’t have to be mine to be enjoyed because there are libraries. I can leave my car at home and leave the driving to the bus-driver. Who needs big lawns when your town has beautiful parks? What if sickness care were free? What if education were free? The European Union has these and still manages to thrive economically. Here we privatize resources and outsource the ill effects. Here we have to buy everything we need for ourselves – and call that freedom.

Expand the circle of “we”

What if you considered the Joneses part of your extended family rather than the yardstick for your status. If the Joneses (or your co-workers or other students) were part of your “we”, they’d cease being a threat and start to be a resource.  Within the walls of your house or the bounds of your family, you share naturally. Everyone has chores and does them hopefully without tallying up hours and demanding pay. Everyone has skills and offers them to those in need – advice, a ride to the store, a loan, a connection that could lead to a job. But those outside our “we” circle are customers and competitors and more and more exchanges are monetized. This is the outcome of our hyper-individualistic culture.

I was brought up on the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. She was a wise old lady who had curious cures for problem kids. Dick was selfish. He wouldn’t share anything with his friends at school. Her prescription was to write “Dick’s. Don’t touch.” on every item he wore or brought to school. “Dick’s bat. Don’t touch.” “Dick’s ball. Don’t touch.” Pretty soon no one would play with him. And soon after that, his selfishness went away.  I wish there were a Mrs. Piggle Wiggle who could as easily dispatch with our “stuff”-possessiveness and liberate us to make sharing rather than hoarding the norm.

Happiness is 90% fairness

Research on human satisfaction shows that contentment depends a lot on fairness – on whether we think resources (money, attention, respect, recognition, stuff) are shared equitably. If others who are like us have way more than us for no good reason, we become dissatisfied with what we have – even if it’s waaaaaaaaay more than we really need. Poor isn’t an absolute state – it’s relative to others who have more. An African man told me years ago, “In my village we were happy until we got television. Then we saw how others in the world lived – and we felt ashamed.” When the former Soviet Union came apart, a few entrepreneurs had the chance to accumulate vast fortunes while the rest of the people struggled to adapt. Only one in five Russians reported they were happy whereas before most were satisfied. Meltdown as shared pain is livable.

The future belongs to those who belong, an almost lost art of inclusiveness rather than competition, of sharing rather than hoarding, of openness rather than fear.

What if we danced in the streets more instead of riding the bicycle to nowhere in the gym with headphones watching TV? What if we had more potlucks instead of “take out” eaten in front of the TV – alone? What if we had more Town Hall meetings instead of one-click activism while checking email? What if we had community and through community we needed to buy less because stuff and fun circulated more freely? Imagine that!

Where do you see community as helping solve the challenges of the economic crunch – especially where it’s making life better?


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