In Native American cultures giving was a way of life. They made generosity a tribal value and created ceremonies and rituals to weave it into the fabric of daily living.
If you had a baby, you were expected to give away your best horses.
If you were a gifted hunter, you were expected to give away a portion of your meat.
If you were made chief, you were expected to give everything away . . .
When Luther Standing Bear was made chief of the Oglala Lakota, he loaded a wagon full of blankets, beadwork, groceries, and other goods, hitched up his team of horses, and drove around camp distributing his things.
Giving served a variety of purposes depending on the individual, but in the overall sense, it was a way of maintaining the spiritual health of the tribe. It discouraged people from becoming too focused on their material things and the ego sense of me and mine. If you know you’re going to give your things away, you’re just the caretaker, and it’s harder to become lost in thinking you’re the one who owns things.
In our culture, ownership is a way of life, and acquiring material things is often celebrated as the entire purpose of living — we are all about the ego sense of me and mine.
I wondered how to incorporate the Native spirit of giving into my daily life . . .
I know there are plenty of ways to be generous with time and money, but I wanted a way to release some sense of attachment to physical things. And, as I already knew, my friends and family don’t want all my extra things.
So, I expanded my sense of tribe and looked for another solution — I found Freecycle.
I’ve started using Freecycle to give away items that I would otherwise have sold on Craigslist or dropped off at Goodwill, and it’s been a very positive experience. People really like free stuff. The ones I’ve dealt with have been so appreciative; they’ve picked up items on time and some have even sent follow-up thank you messages. Granted, I’ve given away some nice things. Not my best horses, but items that were fairly new and in good shape.
Though I support the mission of Goodwill and Salvation Army and still donate to them, it’s much more satisfying to exchange goods with individuals (even if I never see them), rather than drop them off having no idea where they’ll end up. The Goodwill near me always has multiple tractor trailers lined up to transport all the stuff that gets left (donated) there.
It’s also far more enjoyable to give items with no strings rather than deal with the tension of haggling I’ve experienced at times with Craigslist: I’ll take the item you listed for $100, but my pet parakeet is sick, so I can only give you $20 right now. It’s freeing to focus on giving in a space designed for that.
I know it’s a small step, but it’s one I’m enjoying right now.