Last week on the Good Men Project conference call we discussed the pressures men feel to be the primary provider for our families. I’ve felt this pressure both internally and externally in the past few years since I am a stay-at-home dad. Lately, I’ve found a way to shed those socially conditioned gender roles and restrictions.
I’m part of an organization called ServiceSpace that, among other things, champions a gift ecology. The easiest way to explain gift ecology is to give a real-life example. One of the projects at ServiceSpace is a pay-it-forward restaurant called Karma Kitchen. At Karma Kitchen there are no prices on the menu, everyone from the waiter to the dishwasher is a volunteer, and the check at the end of your meal reads $0.00.
Everyone eats for free at Karma Kitchen. Your meal has already been paid for by someone who came before you. Now, you have the opportunity to pay for someone else’s meal. Someone you will probably never meet. Karma Kitchen helps to create “a future that moves us from transaction to trust, from isolation to community, and from fear of scarcity to a celebration of abundance.”
As a man, this movement hit me right in the guts. For decades, I have been trapped in a man-box that serves up heaps of isolation, fear of scarcity, and pressure to come out on the winning side of all transactions (business and personal). It felt amazing to shed these shackles and give without any expectations of returns.
The other day while volunteering at Karma Kitchen I was in charge of collecting payments from the guests. Previously, as a server, I had promised myself to honor any donation that was given, but to tell the truth, I rarely looked inside the small black leather check holders to see who gave what. Last Sunday, I was forced to look.
I literally patted a meditation circle friend on the back when he asked me to charge $100 on his credit card for a party of three. When a man who didn’t seem to have much left without paying, I felt compassion and joy that he received some love and food for his journey. Then a well-to-do party of four left a five dollar bill. I tried to stay in gratitude, but I couldn’t help thinking that a tip in a normal restaurant would be more than five bucks.
I distracted myself by feeling joy for all the other patrons who were giving generously, but my thoughts kept spiraling back to judging that party of four. I judged their privilege, their class, and their culture. Out of desperation, I tried to rationalize how this party deserved the most compassion, love, and generosity because they were stuck in a scarcity mindset, but my heart lacked compassion. Luckily, I had the afternoon off, so I went to the Berkeley Monastery to meditate.
During meditation, I kept thinking about a day-long workshop that I am scheduled to teach in Hawaii this September. I felt the calling to make the workshop free, like Karma Kitchen, but other thoughts arose. The words of my friend, who is helping to organize and promote the workshop, came to mind, “If you don’t charge, people won’t value it.” I thought about how I might not be able to pay for my sons’ activities if I lost money on this event. “Workshops aren’t like restaurants where you get an individual bill. People can just walk out en masse without paying,” I told myself.
Then it hit me. I was so upset about the party of four because they were reflecting back to me my own fears of not having enough. As my wise friend John Malloy says, “Nature reflects your nature.” I decided to make my workshops free with an opportunity to pay-it-forward, and suddenly that party of four didn’t enter my thoughts until I sat down to write this blog post.
Another amazing after-effect of stepping into giftism is that I’ve shed all performance anxiety. I’ve always known that what I offer is of value, but I had doubts about whether people would recognize the value or be willing to pay top dollar for this type of training.
Now that the workshop is free, I couldn’t care less what people think about me, the workshop, or the value that they are receiving. I’m going to give everything I have, and if people don’t like it, then I will refund them their tuition–$0.00. I’ve even thought about offering a refund for people’s time. If attendees really feel like I wasted their time, I will pay them for the hours they are at the workshop.
The confidence, relief, and trust I’ve gained from participating in a gift ecology cannot be put into words or dollars. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders that has been dragging me down for most of my adult life.
I have no idea what is going to happen in September, but I do know that right now I’m experiencing a freedom that transcends money. One can call it true financial freedom—a freedom from the pressure of finance. Who would have thought that the key to escaping the man-box is to give unconditionally? Or as St. Francis says, “It is in giving that we receive.”
I’m so grateful to Karma Kitchen for guiding me towards deep cleaning of socially conditioned fears of scarcity. I’m thankful for the whole Service Space ecosphere that validates the possibility and richness of a gift ecology.