Archive for September 23rd, 2001

Working Together

Sunday, September 23rd, 2001


Community Values

by Dee Hock

One concept that I have puzzled over is an ancient, fundamental idea, the idea of community. The essence of community, its very heart and soul, is the nonmonetary exchange of value; things we do and share because we care for others, and for the good of the place. Community is composed of that which we don’t attempt to measure, for which we keep no record and ask no recompense. Most are things we cannot measure no matter how hard we try. Since they can’t be measured, they can’t be denominated in dollars, or barrels of oil, or bushels of corn – such things as respect, tolerance, love, trust, beautythe supply of which is unbounded and unlimited. The nonmonetary exchange of value does not arise solely from altruistic motives. It arises from deep, intuitive, often subconscious understanding that self-interest is inseparably connected with community interest; that individual good is inseparable from the good of the whole; that in some way, often beyond our understanding, all things are, at one and the same time, independent, interdependent, and intradependent – that the singular “one” is simultaneously the plural “one.”

In a true community, unity of the singular “one” and the plural “one” extends beyond people and things. It applies as well to beliefs, purpose, and principles. Some we hold in common with all others in the community. Others we may hold in common with only some members of the community. Still others we may hold alone. In a true community, the values others hold that we do not share we nonetheless respect and tolerate, either because we realize that our beliefs will require respect and tolerance in return, or because we know those who hold different beliefs well enough to understand and respect the common humanity that underlies all difference. Without an abundance of nonmaterial values and an equal abundance of nonmonetary exchange of material value, no true community ever existed or ever will. Community is not about profit. It is about benefit. We confuse them at our peril. When we attempt to monetize all value, we methodically disconnect people and destroy community.

The nonmonetary exchange of value is the most effective, constructive system ever devised. Evolution and nature have been perfecting it for thousands of millennia. It requires no currency, contracts, government, laws, courts, police, economists, lawyers, accountants. It does not require anointed or certified experts at all. It requires only ordinary, caring people.

True community requires proximity; continual, direct contact and interaction between the people, place, and things of which it is composed. Throughout history, the fundamental building block, the quintessential community, has always been the family. It is there that the greatest nonmonetary exchange of value takes place. It is there that the most powerful nonmaterial values are created and exchanged. It is from that community, for better or worse, that all others are formed. The nonmonetary exchange of value is the very heart and soul of community, and community is the inescapable, essential element of civil society.

If we were to set out to design an efficient system for the methodical destruction of community, we could do no better than our present efforts to monetize all value and reduce life to the tyranny of measurement. Community is more than a mega-balance sheet with the value summed on a bottom line. Money, markets, and measurement have their place. They are important tools indeed. We should honor and use them. But they are far short of the deification their apostles demand of us, and before which we too readily sink to our knees. Only fools worship their tools.

Only fools worship their tools.

There can be no society without community. In fact, there can be no life without it. All life, all of nature, all earthly systems, are based on closed cycles of receiving and giving, save only that gift of energy which comes from the sun. There can be no life whatever without balanced cycles of giving and receiving.

Nonmonetary exchange of value implies an essential difference between receiving and getting. We receive a gift. We take possession. It is a mistake to confuse buying and selling with giving and receiving. It is a mistake to confuse money with value. It is a mistake to believe that all value can be measured. And it is a colossal mistake to attempt to monetize all value.

When we make that attempt, we methodically replace the most effective system of exchanging value for the least effective. Because we cannot mathematically measure the nonmonetary, voluntary exchange of value, we cannot prove to our rational mind the efficiency of the whole or the parts. Nor can we engineer or control that which we cannot measure. Nonmonetary exchange of value frustrates our craving for perfect predictability and the control that it always promises but can never deliver.

When we monetize value, we have a means of measurement, however misleading, that allows us to calculate the relative efficiency of each part of the system. It allows us to engineer mechanisms to “solve” problems that our measurements have revealed. In a strange way, we measure our problems into existence, then try to engineer them away. It doesn’t occur to us that destroying an extremely effective system whose values we can’t calculate in order to calculate the supposed efficiency of an ineffective system is fundamentally flawed. It doesn’t occur to us that attempting to engineer a society and institutional structures based on mathematical measurement may be equally flawed. As the popular dictum says, “What gets measured is what gets done.” Perhaps that’s precisely the problem.

Giving and receiving can’t be measured in any meaningful sense. A gift with expectation is no gift at all. It is a bargain. In a nonmonetary exchange of value, giving and receiving is not a transaction. It is an offering and an acceptance. In nature, when a closed cycle of receiving and giving is out of balance, death and destruction soon arise. It is the same in society.

When money’s rant is on, we come to believe that life is a right that comes bearing a right, which is the right of getting and having. Life is not a right. Life is a gift, bearing a gift, which is the art of giving. And community is the place where we can give our gifts and receive the gifts of others.

Life is a gift, bearing a gift, which is the art of giving.

When our individual and collective consciousness becomes receptive to new concepts of organization which that way of thinking implies, society and its institutions may yet come into harmony with the richness and abundance of the human spirit, and the earth of which it is an inseparable part. That is the voice that sings to us now, and the song is beginning to be heard throughout the land.

Copyright ©1999 by Dee Hock

The above text is quoted from: Dee Hock’s Birth of the Chaortic Age, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, 1999. You can buy his book in most bookstores or on the net. He is affiliated with a very interesting group of humans at: