by Marie Goodwin

Timebanking is a really fun experiment in building community. The Transition Town initiative in Media, Pennsylvania has found it to be the web of support for all of the work that is done through that organization, supporting and binding people together while building joy and enthusiasm for what needs to be done. And as we work, we build community. Because, isn’t that how you really get to know people? To work with them? To find their gifts, their frailties, what makes them tick? Transition wants to build community through co-production, rather than co-consuming. And timebanking is one mechanism for making that happen.

The co-production element of building community is in no small part due to finding people’s gifts and allowing them expression. And isn’t that exactly what we are doing? Returning gift into exchanges…exchanges that have been monetized (I would argue inappropriately) by our culture to the extent that we pay for dozens of things that our grandparents and great-grandparents did for themselves.

I’m going to quote here from Sacred Economics, by Charles Eisenstein (Chapter 15, on local & complementary currencies):

“In our atomized society, the traditional ways of knowing who has what to offer have broken down, and commercial means of disseminating this information (such as advertising) are accessible only with money. Time banks connect individuals who would otherwise be oblivious to the needs and gifts each can offer. As one time bank user puts it,

‘Everyone has a skill-some might surprise you. An elderly shut-in who doesn’t drive can make beautiful wedding cakes. A woman in a wheelchair who needs her house painted used to train police dogs and now provides puppy training. The retired school-teacher who needs her leaves raked has a kiln and is teaching ceramics. A common question when we meet each other is, “What do you do?” “What do you need?” or “What can I do for you?’

Beyond the meeting of immediate needs, you can see from this description the power of time banks to restore community. They generate the kind of economic and social resiliency that sustains life in times of turmoil. As money unravels, it is important to have alternative structures for the meeting of human needs.

The fundamental idea behind time banks is deeply egalitarian, both because everyone’s time is valued equally and because everyone starts out with the same amount of it. If there is one thing that we can be said to truly own, it is our time. Unlike any other possession, as long as we are alive, our time is inseparable from our selves. Our choice of how to spend time is our choice of how to live life. And no matter how wealthy one is in terms of money, it is impossible to buy more time. Money might buy you life-saving surgery or otherwise enhance longevity, but it won’t guarantee long life; nor can it purchase more than twenty-four hours of experience in each day. In this we are all equal; a money system that recognizes this equality is intuitively appealing.

When time-based currency replaces monetary transactions, it is a great equalizing force in society. The danger is that time currency can also end up transferring formerly gift-based activity into the realm of the quantified. The future, perhaps, belongs to non-monetary, non-quantified ways of connecting gifts and needs. Still, at least for a long time to come, time banks have an important role to play in healing our fragmented local communities.”

Timebanks are really only a restorative measure. Ideally, we would all know each other well enough to get most of our needs met without a currency. But, for now, timebanking serves as a middle road on the way back to a gift-based economy, a friendly tool to help us move beyond issues of scarcity-thinking and fear to a place of seeing each other as resources and stores of latent gifts…and maybe more importantly, seeing ourselves that way too.

Marie Goodwin is the Marie is the Founder and Coordinator of TimeBank Media (Pennsylvania) and directs a newly established Mid-Atlantic Regional TimeBanks alliance. TimeBank Media is a project of Transition Town Media.