So this is a blog about me putting down yet another mask and opening up to those around me. So let me announce to you all - 'Hi, my name is Bronwyn Bay and my family is struggling financially'. Phew, I said it - it's out. So, why am I broadcasting my personal financial situation to the world? Well, because I have a hunch (just a small one) that I'm not alone in this predicament (oh god please don't let me be alone!). I've been thinking for some time about the odd way our country functions regarding the monetary system. Then I watched Nigel Latta's recent episode 'the haves and the have nots' (http://tvnz.co.nz/nigel-latta/s1-ep4-video-6025283) which was very heavy watching but also made me feel a little relieved. Why? Well, because I feel there's an under current perspective in our society that says people who are financially struggling have made poor decisions and that's why they have ended up in debt and struggling to pay bills. This is where our old friends blame and shame come into play. But Nigel's programme gave a different perspective - it showed that living expenses have risen at a far greater rate than incomes - suddenly, I didn't feel so ashamed to be in a situation where we were unable to make ends meet.
The episode made me wonder about why things are so hard for so many people, I can't help but wonder about the way society is functioning and question "is this working?" Usually, I try to remain neutral on concepts such as money. After all, it's just a tool, like a hammer. A hammer doesn't mean anyone harm but if used incorrectly it can cause a fair amount of damage (especially to ones thumb). Money was set up to be a means to an end but for many it has become an end . By that - I mean people have started to see money as something to have rather than something to use. They save it up, hoard it, tuck it away in trust funds and in properties so that they can feel secure. They line up their ducks and build a rubber duckie fort. However, I have personally seen people who have lined up these duckies only to see them fall one by one. It just takes a series of events for everything to turn to custard. A major illness, death in the family, finance company to go under, redundancy, earthquake and suddenly savings are eaten up, trust funds are emptied, properties are sold and there's not a duck in sight. But these people I've seen endure financial misfortune, they didn't end up on the street. Do you know why? Because they had family and friends who cared about them and loved them. There was a lot of pride to be swallowed but after that, it soon became apparent to them that they would always be ok. Many, many others do not have such networks around them and these are the ones who end up doing desperate things to stay afloat from going to loan sharks to maybe even stealing from their employer.
It seems we have lost touch with the fact that relationships are our true currency in life. Our true security. Our true means of exchange. We have become so cut off from each other as human beings that we would rather squirrel away bits of paper and coins than invest in our community relationships with offerings of love and trust. Man oh man do we have a ways to go.
My friend recently came home from Fiji where she visited a village. She told me that everyone in that village treated everyone else like family. They all looked after each others children and they all shared their resources. Hearing about this reminded me of an internet meme I've seen going around about the philosophy of 'ubuntu' (I am because we are). The story goes like this:
An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids that who ever got there first won the sweet fruits.
When he told them to run they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: ''UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?"
Here's the thing about this story - I think this way of looking at things is actually embedded in all of us. I think we struggle to be happy when others are sad because our humanity is at the core of our human beingness. It is natural for us to feel sad when we see people poor, struggling or in conflict and we don't like feeling sad. That's why many decide to go down the line of blame, to separate themselves from what they are seeing. They look at the homeless and the families in poverty and say - you made poor choices and/or are not trying hard enough to help yourself. It's the sort of thinking that brings about a wave of hate and disgust towards people in need. I think it's because deep down inside we know that we are all responsible for the way our society functions and rather than be accountable and responsible for the way things are, some would rather point fingers and hide. I'm not saying we are each personally responsible for the way things are but rather that we are collectively responsible. In saying that though, I do think that we can individually make a difference by deciding to share, help, give and support the people around us in anyway we can - that's just my point of view.
I'm not going to stop here. I'm not a soap box yeller pointing at everyone else about how things are bad and they ought to do something. So yeah ok, I have some ideas that could encourage communities to look out for each other and in doing so, create the security they long for. I recently went to the Living Economies conference in West Auckland and learnt about different economic resilience ideas and concepts. In fact they are not simply ideas and concepts - these things are happening in communities across New Zealand and they are working. They are bringing communities together by pooling resources and sharing skills - it was so inspiring to hear about and certainly fanned the flame in my belly regarding the importance of community.
The first of these concepts that I'd like to see introduced into my community is a savings pool. I'm not all that taken with the word 'pool', kind of sounds like a lottery thing but hey, that's what it's called so I'll run with it and there are already many savings pools set up in communities across New Zealand. It can be a tricky concept to convey concisely but I'll give it a try. Simply, it is a group of people within a community who pool their money and use it interest-free to help each other with paying off debt and/or buy things/services they need. No one receives more or less than they put in so it is not free money and it is not a investment scheme (other than investing in building relationships).
The interest on loans and credit cards is what slides many community members into debt, a savings pool alleviates the burden of interest. A savings pool empowers the community to help its members out of debt traps and creates an environment within which connections can grow. Savings pools function on a foundation of trust and require transparency. It doesn't mean prudent measures aren't put in place to ensure that members pay back what is paid to them and that they also contribute to helping others in return for the help they receive.
Well if you got this far in my blog then I'm guessing the topic is of interest to you or maybe you're just someone who insists on finishing something once you've started. Either way I'm almost done. I'll finish up with a few links that I found very interesting reading.
There are a few articles on this Living Economies webpage that explain really well why the monetary system is sending more and more of us into debt: http://www.le.org.nz/we-need-to-talk-about-money
If you want to read something that properly explains how savings pools work here's the link:
So thanks for journeying with my one of my most long winded blogs. I hesitate to talk money with people - it's the sort of topic that shuts people down immediately. However, it really is something I feel we need to talk about more because from what I can see - many of us are struggling in the current system to even get a solid foot hold.
As always with love and respect
Bronwyn Bay (rich in many ways).
P.S. Oh go on, one more link. This talk by 'The Moneyless Man' - Mark Boyle explains the role money has had in separating us from our environment and each other.