Let’s work together

I heard a report on the radio this morning about childhood obesity in which some politician stated that he wanted to ensure that children got more physical exercise in schools by increasing the amount of competitive sport. And I just wanted to scream. At school I hated competitive sport – I was a skinny child with big glasses who was always picked last for teams in PE. I cringed at the idea of running up and down a hockey field in the rain; I detested volleyball, even going as far as pretending to be ill to avoid having to play. But this did not mean I wasn’t active: I loved trampolining, swimming, riding my bike, dog walking even a bit of friendly badminton. I loved physical activity, but I hated competition.

Cooperation on a felt-making course

Cooperation on a felt-making course

As I grew to adulthood, this outlook was reinforced. I continued to be active – aerobics, yoga, swimming, walking – but I avoided competition. I still do, although I don’t mind watching others competing sometimes (a bit of 6 Nations rugby whilst knitting is fine). And I wonder how many other people feel this way. I wonder how many children will avoid taking part in PE if they are forced to compete. I wonder how many people are turned off by politics because of its adversarial nature. I wonder how many people would campaign against injustice if it didn’t feel like a game of ‘us’ against ‘them’.

Personally, I like sharing, being supported, being part of a community and I like cooperation. And, you know what? I’m not the only one. According to the BBC, for example, the most popular participation sport in England is swimming… not football as you might assume if you ever watch the TV.

In addition, recent research is demonstrating that the natural world is not simply about competition. ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’, as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem In Memoriam, is not always true. Microbial systems have been found to act cooperatively, particularly when populations are expanding and there is evidence of the value of cooperation over competition in a range of species – including human beings. There are also many examples of successful cooperative behaviour in the world of insects, and this within stable and robust communities. Cooperation is not exceptional, it’s common and it works.

So, what do you think? As for me, I agree with Canned Heat: Let’s Work Together.

A fair exchange

Following on from my last post, I have had several discussions this week about bartering and how we can make a ‘living’ from our various activities.

No use offering me eggs for barter - I have plenty of those!

No use offering me eggs for barter – I have plenty of those!

I really like the idea of bartering, but if this happens directly, then both parties need to have something that the other wants. It’s no use me being able to knit you socks if the only thing you have to offer is eggs, since I already have an abundance of these; or a hair-cut, since I have long hair. This is where the LETS scheme has the potential to work well, since the exchange does not need to be direct: you get credits and these can be exchanged for any services in the scheme. I have never been part of  a LETS scheme, but I understand that they often break down because, for example, lots of people are offering massages (which few people want) and few people are offering plumbing services (which many people want).

I don’t want to be in a position where I can’t do some work for someone because they don’t have something I want right now… perhaps an IOU would be in order in such a case. It was during a discussion about this when it was pointed out to me that something that I do need is money; and that this is the thing that some people actually have! Indeed, money is a great way of storing up ‘credit’ to get services or goods you need in the future! So, I shouldn’t be too squeamish about accepting money as payment, if that’s what works. In fact, that’s what money was for in the first place – a way of keeping tally; it’s a shame it’s become something completely different to many people now.

So, my business plan is starting to take shape. The services that I can provide are craft-related and ecological advice (perhaps a strange combination, but there you go!). I plan to compile a ‘wants and needs’ list, so that people who want my services can look at that to decide whether they have something they can barter, and if they don’t I will be prepared to accept money. Of course deciding on the ‘value’ of things is a challenge – eggs have little value to me, but old hand-knitted acrylic jumpers do! Selling at craft fairs and on etsy will necessarily involve money and I’m happy with that. So, now I have to concentrate on my needs and wants and focus on how to determine an exchange rate…

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