I’ve had the opportunity to speak to folks who have been participating in Time Banking for decades. One thing that often comes up, is how a “time bank” differs from a “volunteer database”. One response (that I appreciate very much), is that volunteering often happens for Charity Organizations — organizations that advocate for and direct resources to those who might be considered less fortunate. The language describes the relationship and in this case there is a definite hierarchy of relating — One person has gifts and resources and another has only needs.
This is obviously an over simplification of what can be a very complex set of relationships, but it helps point out some of the intention behind time-banking or what I like to call a Giver’s Exchange. In a Giver’s Exchange, there is an effort to maintain equality in relating — all people have gifts, all people have needs. One person’s hour of time and talent is equal to another person’s. I might need someone to sit with my aging parent, listen to their stories, play bridge, change their light bulbs, and someone else might need help raking leaves, walking a dog, or mending a fence…
In simpler times or in more tight knit circles of families and friends, equality in relating and the exchange of time and talents happens without too much notice or fanfare. We understand time constraints and there are layers of trust that allow each other to ask only for what they need from the people they trust to meet that need.
Many of us, however, have found ourselves living away from our family and friends. We have moved, or our children have moved because of work or school. We have found ourselves feeling isolated without adequate institutions for meeting people, starting new friendships, or building trusting relationships. In these cases, a time bank is valuable in that it can help connect people. It can work as an introduction to others who feel compelled to lead with their giving heart — the heart’s desire to be helpful, to share one’s gifts, but it can also build trust with others by providing opportunities to accept another’s gift, be humbled in the experience by sharing a need, leading with an open and potentially vulnerable heart.
I find it fascinating to be around people who have considered these ideas and tried them on, people who have gone as far as to sign up to participate in Columbia’s Time Bank. I don’t think any of us really know how to make this work, but I do tend to trust those who find these ideas valuable and I have made some good trustworthy friends along the way.
(To Be Continued)