Thursday, September 07, 2023

"Whatever We Are Given Is Supposed To Be Given Away"

I picked up a small stone and performed some slight-of-hand for the children. I then handed the stone to a girl, saying, "I'm giving this to you." Our playground is bestrewn with stones and pebbles. Anyone of them would have served my purposes, but I'd selected this one. Now this girl had it. The other children gathered around her, requesting a turn with this "special" stone.

"It's funny how the nature of an object . . . is so changed by the way it has come into your hands, as a gift or a commodity," writes Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. This stone was just a stone until I picked it up, then gave it to someone else. Now it's a treasure.

After trying to make it "disappear" several times, in imitation of me, she passed it along to a playmate, who squealed. The first girl had not squealed when I gave it to her. It had become even more valuable as children jockeyed to be next. 

"The more something is shared, the greater its value becomes," writes Kimmerer.

The stone passed from hand-to-hand over the course of the next half hour or so. Some held if for a few seconds before passing it along. Others took time to cherish it. But they all paid it forward. There was no adult coaxing them or praising them. They knew exactly what to do.

"Many of our ancient teachings counsel that whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again."

Eventually, the last child took his turn with the stone. He had waited a long time. Only he could say if it was worth it, but he seemed as pleased as the others. 

"From the viewpoint of a private property economy, the "gift" is deemed to be "free" because we obtain it free of charge, at no cost. But in the gift economy, gifts are not free. The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships." And the obligation to give it away again.

I figured the game was now done, but I was wrong. After several minutes the boy began to look around until he spied me. It had started as a stone like all the others, but as it passed from person-to-person as a gift, it had become a talisman, a symbol, and a ceremony. He completed the circle by handing the stone to me. And I returned it to the earth, who had given it to me.


Registration for this course closes at midnight. In other words, it's not too late! If you're interested in learning more about how the language we use with children impacts not just our relationships with them, but also their entire learning environment, please consider registering for my 6-week course The Technology of Speaking With Children So They Can Think. Join the 2023 cohort as we examine how the language we use with children creates reality. We will explore how the way we speak with children becomes an environment in which cooperation and peacefulness are the norm, where children take the initiative, solve their own problems, and, most importantly, think for themselves. Click here for more information and to register.

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