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The Karma of Sharing

October 5, 2009

I’m reading Studs Terkel’s Hard Times for my class on the Great Depression. It’s a collection of oral histories taken in the 1960s from people from all walks of life and all ages and it asks them what they remember about the Depression. In it, there are several stories that make note of the fact that people shared a lot more back then, but there are several more that indicate that people grew more guarded and secretive and fearful of sharing. The one tale that struck me was from a guy who was hoboing around and who said (and I paraphrase), “The less people have, the more they share. When you got nothing, you don’t have to worry about someone takin’ it.”

Sharing isn’t often done in big cities. I think it’s the anonymity factor – you don’t really know anyone, and no one knows you. There’s safety in that, but there’s also danger. For instance, fewer people who witness crimes, accidents, or people in trouble do anything about it.

In rural areas, everyone knows everyone, which means a whole lot less privacy, but also means more safety. More than in cities. Because if everyone in your town or on surrounding farms knows who, they are more likely to help you out when you’re in a bind. Farmers are great at this, sharing equipment, loaning tools, helping with planting and harvest, especially if someone on the farm is injured or sick. The other nice thing about everyone knowing everyone is that if someone sees a strange person sneaking around someone’s house or farm, they’re likely to tell the owner and/or call the police. They might even challenge that person.

There’s also more trust in dealing with people in rural areas. I was talking with my mom about this, particularly the “3 Degrees of Separation” that seem inevitable in and in reference to North Dakota. We’re such a small state that invariably you’ll run into someone who is either related to or friends with one of your relatives or friends. If the person with a flat tire on the side of the road is married to your cousin’s best friend’s sister, you’re more likely to help them, and you’re more likely to help them more. I think it’s because there’s accountability in knowing who someone is. If the person you’re helping steals your car or takes off with your wallet, you can tell the police and find that person through your network of friends and family.

But I digress. Let’s get back to sharing.

I love sharing. Well, mostly. I don’t like sharing/loaning out favorite books or my fancy kitchenware. But pretty much everything that I truly love to do involves sharing. For instance: playing music, cooking and food, writing, telling stories and talking, dancing, etc. Gardening is also very much about sharing, but I haven’t gotten there yet. I need a patch of dirt first!

To me, sharing is different from giving. Sharing is taking part of what you are doing/making and spreading it around to people you like and love or sometimes to people you don’t even know! Giving, to me, is taking something that you don’t want or don’t need and foisting it off on someone you perceive needs help. Giving comes with debt, like it or not. Sharing is guilt-free.

I’ve been lucky enough to live a kind of charmed life so far. No major tragedy, no true hardship. I think part of it comes from liking to share. Oh sure, when I was a kid I was a brat and didn’t want to share toys or cookies or whatever. But as I’ve grown up, sharing has become more important to me. Particularly in regards to food. Maybe it’s a gene I inherited from my great-grandmothers, but somehow whenever I’m cooking, I always make enough to feed at least four people, sometimes eight. And when I lived all by my lonesome in my big apartment back home, I was always wanting to throw parties and have people over to feed them and hang out. I miss that now, but our current apartment is just too tiny to have more than a few people over.

Another thing about sharing is that it feels good. And not in a patronizing, munificent kind of way. But in a feel-good, fun kind of way. Hmm, I can’t explain it really. Maybe it has more to do about having something you love and/or love doing and having other people enjoy it makes you feel satisfied, justified perhaps.

What do you think about sharing? I’m curious to know.

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