Disruptive Generosity

As humanity slowly grasps the gruesome reality that the triple threat of peak oil, catastrophic climate change, and over-population have returned our human existence to its prior state of scarcity, many of our complex systems will seem comically ill-equipped for the post-petroleum era. Our banking system is likely to fail, dependent as it is on the certainty of an impossibility (perpetual economic growth). The great experiment in suburban expansion will also fail, dependent as it is on a constant supply of cheap fossil fuels.

In the place of these complex systems, we are likely to fall back on the simple systems humans have used for centuries, many of them built around a “gift economy.” In a gift economy, people help other people because it’s the right thing to do. But they also help other people because they understand the way human interaction works. “I’ll help you today; no questions asked. In doing so, I’ll be building relationship with you. Later, either I or someone important to me will need help, and when they do, you’ll help.”

Disruptive generosity is the gift economy on steroids. Disruptive generosity asks no questions but one: “How can we give away more?” Disruptive generosity, by its nature, steps on toes. Disruptive generosity confuses and frustrates so-called “free enterprise,” because it sets out to give away much of what free enterprise wants to charge people for.

Disruptive Generosity Asks No Questions But One

For example, disruptive generosity doesn’t ask “What will you give me in return?” because the question is pointless. Everybody in the community needs help, and everybody is capable of providing help. The purpose of community is to build relationships so strong, so sturdy, that it doesn’t matter who you’ve done favors for. Everyone understands that everyone needs help from time to time, so everyone provides it when it’s needed.

Disruptive generosity doesn’t ask “do you NEED this help?” In a smoothly functioning community, nobody needs to prove that he or she is needy. People help each other not just in a crisis, but because it’s fun to do. Maybe you and your family are healthy and well-fed, but I want to share with you some the meat from the deer I just killed. It’s not that you NEED the help; I’m simply pleased and proud to share with you.

Disruptive generosity doesn’t ask “do you DESERVE this help?” Because disruptive generosity is not needs-based, it also has no interest in whether people are “qualified,” whether they belong to the right church, or how they behave. Disruptive generosity grows from an awareness of blessings and a desire to share, so it pays little or no attention to the characteristics of the person being helped.

The One Question Is “How Can We Give Away More?”

The one question disruptive generosity asks constantly is, “how can we share more?” “How can we make this bigger, more audacious, more delightful, to the people around us?” Maybe I have so much fun giving you that venison that I decide to grow an extra row of okra so I can give you (or others) some of it too. Maybe next year I’ll organize a class for you and several others on deer hunting, or okra growing. And maybe the year after that, you and I will work together to organize a seed bank or a deer rifle bank. The year after that, who knows, but I bet we can make it bigger, and have fun doing it. All we need to do is to keep asking the question, “how can we give away more?”

Disruptive Generosity Steps on Toes

All over the Global North, but particularly in the US, we have slowly been persuaded over the last 150 years or so that the fundamental purpose of human existence is to make money, to “succeed.” The implicit assumption of the mercantile ethic is that nothing is worth doing unless it results in a product or service you can sell to someone else at a profit. Disruptive generosity rejects the mercantile ethic, because disruptive generosity assumes that the fundamental purpose of human existence is to maximize human happiness.

Conventional wisdom doesn’t like that implicit assumption; no sir, not one bit. Isn’t it, well, socialism? Yes, it is, because disruptive generosity understands that the heart of socialism is a celebration of people. That’s what the word “social” is all about.