or how to survive late capitalism with your
dignity intact and help others to do the same
“The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need – the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love. But this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, and to enjoy the act of painting. It is not only next to impossible, it is also profoundly cruel…”
A u d r e L o r d e
I am an anti-capitalist business owner. Capitalism is a highly dysfunctional and destructive system which perpetuates both the oppression of humans and exploitation of natural resources. It damages the human spirit to be essentially forced to participate in capitalism for our survival. And yet, here we are, all having to do our best within an inherently flawed and unjust system. I truly believe that we are all doing the best we can with what we know. Until we see a more generous and equitable way of doing anything modeled for us, it can be difficult to imagine that it is possible.
We all need to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves to a reasonable degree. For each of us this looks different, and these standards of living are yours alone to define for yourself. But once we’ve met whatever we believe to be our basic needs and we have disposable income, it is essential to give back as much as we can to those who lack the privileges we hold, or who do not even have access to the basic necessities of life. This includes not only those persons who experience oppression, but also our more than human kin: plants, animals, and ecosystems.
Power, resources, and access to capital are extremely unfairly distributed in our society based on race, class, gender, and sexuality. Reciprocity is the practice of acknowledging this fact and actively leveraging whatever privilege one holds, to shift power and resources into the hands of those who are systematically oppressed.
Reciprocity is foundational to the work that I do through both La Abeja Herbs and Garden Party. And for a long time, I didn’t think anyone else needed to know about it. In an age where nearly everything is subject to the harsh criticism of the online sphere, it just felt easier to manage this aspect of my work quietly and privately. But recently, I’ve realized that this was mostly out of fear — fear of being challenged, questioned, or perceived as being a performative ally. My choice not to share this aspect of my work publicly was actually a form of white silence and not something I wanted to perpetuate.
“If you have come here to help me,
you are wasting your time. But if you have come
because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together.”
L i l l a W a t s o n
We each have a sacred responsibility to create reciprocity in whatever ways we are capable of. That will look different for you and for me and for everyone we know. And that is ok. I truly do not believe that there is one right way to give back, or to be an activist, or to live an ethical life. There are many others ways to reject a capitalist system and capitalist practices, and to actively work to create something new and different. I am in no way suggesting that I have an answer or that other actions should not be taken as well. Below you’ll find an [imperfect] set of suggestions and guidelines for living well and wisely during these trying and transformational times.
I am the first to admit that I have my blind spots as a white woman of relative privilege in this world. If there is anything missing from this list that you believe should be on it, or anything which you find problematic, I would love to know about it so I can continue to learn, grow, and show up as effectively and empathically as possible. I want this to be an ongoing dialogue because I recognize these are not solutions on their own. I hope you’ll join me in adopting some of the following suggestions, as well as taking the time to share your own on social media, using the hashtag #ReciprocityInAction so that others can be inspired by your example
Note // While these practices are specifically meant for anyone who offers their time, services, or goods they produce for sale, it is my hope that there will be some pearls of wisdom and healing in these words that can be put into practice by anyone who makes above the living wage. Additionally, as a consumer, these are important things to be looking for when supporting businesses and individuals.
A C T I O N S o f R E C I P R O C I T Y
T I T H I N G
The word tithing originates from the Old English tēotha, meaning one tenth. Historically, the term refers to giving one tenth of your earnings to the Church. (Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that…) Tithing, however, is perhaps the most important practice for cultivating reciprocity. I created Garden Party, essentially because wanted to able to financially contribute to the vital work of others at the intersection of social and environmental justice. If you have the ability to generate resources and capital, redistributing those in a way that acknowledges your privilege is essential. Be specific about the percentage of your monthly or yearly income you plan to tithe and to whom. As my friend Olivia Pepper explains, making this a clear and specific percentage, makes it easier to keep your commitment, even in months when your finances are not as robust. If you’d like to see an excellent example of clarity and transparency in tithing, please visit Olivia’s website where she shares more about her practice. I also recommend listening to this short talk by Tim Wise which offers clearly distinguishes acts of solidarity from acts of charity
S L I D I N G S C A L E
If you are someone who provides services to the general public, consider offering sliding scale rates to increase accessibility for folks who may not be able to afford your full fee. You can explain to your higher paying clients that by paying a slightly higher rate, they are making it possible for other to access to your offerings. Humans generally want to help others when presented with the clear opportunity to do so. With a sliding scale we can offer our clients a choice that is easy to say yes to.
T H E G I V E A W A Y
Ask yourself, “Who could most benefit from what I have to offer, but may not have access to it?” How can you offer your gifts to these people in a way that does not necessitate any additional labor — emotional or otherwise — on their part? Whatever it is you do, either for money or not, if you have the time and ability to do so, it is invaluable to offer that to those in the world who need it — free of charge. One example is superstar herbalist, Abbe Findley, who has created Street Feet LA in order to provide the houseless population of Los Angeles. She offers much-needed medical foot care free of charge in locations that are easily accessed by those who can benefit most from this offering.
H O N O R T H E W O R K O F O T H E R S
Name your teachers and mentors, cite your sources and acknowledge those whose work has inspired your own. Share and celebrate others generously and often. There is enough for all of us. It can be tempting to believe that if others in our field are successful, that there will be less resources available for us as individuals. I say: don’t buy it. This scarcity mentality is a false construct of capitalism and one we must all work to deconstruct within ourselves and our own lives. By promoting others who are doing work that is similar or complementary to our own, we all have the opportunity to grow and shift our culture from one of competition to one of cooperation.
T A K E B R E A K S
It is okay to take breaks. In fact, it’s absolutely essential. Your work should feed and support your life and the lives of those around you — not vice versa. While few of us ever achieve the much talked about work-life balance, we have to remember that we are not resources to be exploited. This may sound obvious, but how many of us consistently create time for the rest and recuperation we truly require? So many people who are working tirelessly for social and environmental justice often lose sight of the fact that they are simply recreating the very extractionist mode of thinking they are trying to resist, by pushing themselves beyond their body’s limits. For people whose work is their passion and their purpose — sometimes not working is the most productive thing they can do.
U S E D I S C E R N M E N T
Recognize that although it may never occur to you to lie, deceive, or manipulate others, there are some people who will. This is something that I’ve struggled mightily to understand in my life. However, in business I’ve learned that there are people out there who do not have your best interest in mind. I’d like to think that this is totally innocent on their part, and perhaps it is. The inherently competitive nature of capitalism can make many folks act out of greed or self interest at the expense of others when they might not if we were living in a more fair and equitable world. If something doesn’t feel right to you, don’t be afraid to ask questions, get a second opinion, and ultimately be your own ally in any situation. Bring as much integrity to your professional relationships as you would to your personal ones.
L I M I T Y O U R C O N S U M P T I O N
Be intentional about purchasing new items and supplies for your business. Invest the time and energy to fix or repurpose old equipment rather than buying new. Seek out QTBIPOC businesses to support, spend the extra money to keep your dollars local whenever possible, and always consider the hidden ecological and social costs of your business. For herbalists, our Wholehearted Wildcrafting Guide also offers a handful of important suggestions for working wisely with plant medicine in a way that prioritizes reciprocity.
B E W I L L I N G T O L E A R N
If someone shares with you that something you are doing in your business or in your life is harmful — listen to them. Ultimately you will have to trust your own instincts and judgement when it comes to accommodating their feedback. But when others share with you that you can do better, remain curious, open, and humble. Be willing to have conversations that feel uncomfortable and recognize that there is always more to learn.