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What In My House Belongs to Someone Else?
Your thoughts on becoming aware of others' needs
One of my favorite things about Other Feminisms is being able to make my writing part of a conversation, not just a paper airplane launched into the empty-feeling space of social media. Thank you all for that gift.
I loved this perspective from Layne on discovering that the books on her shelves belonged to other people:
I smiled at the anecdote of looking at the library card to see who else has borrowed a book and, additionally, when it was last borrowed. I do the same thing. As a reader and a teacher I have begun in the past few years to give books from my ‘personal library’ to others without expecting the books to return. Often the books are returned, but even saying a 'personal' library is starting to feel off.
I am tempted, at times, to only borrow from the library and sidestep asking a friend or colleague if I can borrow something I know they have in their ‘personal library.’ That is, I am tempted to sidestep interaction and replace it with transaction. Just this morning I have had no luck finding a book in the university's catalogue. While the library's resources enable me to search the state for a copy of the book at any public or university library, and we are encouraged to do so by library staff, I suspect that my colleague down the hall has a copy in their office or at their home. I will go ask them, but why is this not my first impulse?
Here is where I sense we can begin subverting the book-hunting-consumer instinct: When purchasing a book I see now there is always the possibility that it will be given it away, and probably should be given away. In the end, I may not be buying it for myself at all.
Reading her story made me smile… and then wince. I use Library Extension so that, as soon as I pull up a book on a site like Amazon or Bookshop, I can see if it’s in my library system. But I almost never check if the book might be on a friend’s shelves. Not even when I got the original recommendation from a friend.
I think I’m reluctant because borrowing the book does create a tie and an obligation. I have to get to the book in a timely way and then (eeep!) be prepared to give my impressions, which may clash with those of my friend.
I love my local library, but some of my reasons for seeking it out are definitely about remaining unentangled and untouched.
Martha offered a few examples of how she involves her son in gift-giving and in discerning what he no longer needs to hold onto:
One practice that I adopted with my kiddo over the past couple years is a practice of donating toys, regularly. It's now common practice if my kiddo expresses a desire for a new-to-him toy we will fill up a bag of toys and donate them before we get it.
I also have joined a few mutual aid groups and my local Buy Nothing Project group, and my son comes along when we bring something to a neighbor’s porch, or pick something up from theirs.
These weekly+ gift-exchanges have very much helped the way both my son and I relate to consumption, although part of me is also less enthused about the thing-centric-ness of these activities.
Magdalen is also involved in her local Buy Nothing, but, like Martha, sees it as a shallower connection than the ones she’d like to have:
I'm currently in that liminal space in my mid-twenties where I'm not especially dependent on anyone, and no one is especially dependent on me. I remember when Leah ran an interview with Snead a few months back, a question she kept bringing the conversation back to was: how can we change our lives so that we are more confronted with the needs of others in the day-to-day?
I love my Buy Nothing group and I'm quite active in it, but I do typically see it as promoting sustainability and reuse rather than calling us to sacrifice to meet the needs of others. I do some amount of volunteering, but it doesn't feel integrated into my life in the same way that taking care of a sick friend or giving money to the homeless man who sits outside my grocery store does.
I think it's hard to build a life that treasures stewardship without that sense of integration or confrontation with the needs of others, and I wonder if anyone else has thoughts on what I could do differently to encounter that confrontation.
The biggest thing I do to encounter that confrontation day-to-day is asking friends who are religious “Is there anything I can pray for for you?” before we end a conversation.
I might have spent more than an hour with them, but it’s often only in response to this question that I hear about a family member who has gotten sick, a friend they’ve fallen out with, a serious sin they’re struggling to untangle themselves from. They offer me a gift of intimacy when they ask for my prayers.
Finally, I liked a pair of comments that turned the gift economy lens on our beginning and our ends. Claire wrote:
It seems like every holding or use of land is a gift. We didn’t create the Earth—God did. At the very beginning of being able to provide for our basic needs, there’s the gift of creation (existence) itself. A lot of our needs are provided for in the market economy—my husband and I work, and we use our paychecks to pay the mortgage and the utility bills and buy food. But they all rest on that first gift of creation.
Or, as a theologian friend recently observed:
Liz mentioned one other way to remember that we ultimately have to give everything away: writing a will requires us to imagine whom our possessions might be for next.
For folks who have done this, did the process of writing the will change how you thought about what you have now? Did you give anything away immediately or treat it differently once you knew whom it would belong to next?