Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sweat equity

How cutting firewood can put food on your table

In our modern culture, we accept money as the standard of payment in exchange for goods purchased or services hired. It exists as paper bills, digital bits, and metal coins, but it is all symbolic of value, and with the ability to exchange these symbols between world cultures, it is almost universally accepted.

Money is a powerful concept, especially now that it is no longer backed by gold. Really, the entire system is based on every single person buying into the belief that the crumpled up bill in his or her pockets is worth anything more than a wad of kindling.

We work for our money, most of us, and if we don't have it, we borrow it. We borrow it against our time, and often times our livelihoods. We spend our lives slaving away for this monster we call currency, complaining with every laborious breath we take, and this is a beast that we created.

It wasn't always this way, though, and there are (blessedly) still ways around it. I am, in fact, obsessed with finding ways around it, because most days it seems as though the money tree has dried up on me, and I'm left scratching in the dirt for pennies. This work-around is not obvious, or easy, and it still demands you to exchange your precious time for goods and services rendered, but there are other benefits.

Sweat equity. Sweat equity is what my dad called it once, and though I didn't understand it then, I sure do now. It means having something to offer. It means being willing to break a sweat, to get work done, and to help others help you. Sweat equity holds you accountable for being a skilled human being. It's a system that exchanges your expertise with a trade, service, product, or ability, in exchange for someone else's trade, service, product, or ability.

Take for example how I spent half of my Memorial Day - cutting firewood with my dad. Now, I am a young man without many possessions, and though I do pride myself on the fact I can fit almost everything I own in the back of my car, there are times when I need tools that I do not own.

Last fall, I was hunting a lot of roughed grouse, and at that time I did not have my own shotgun. My dad had one though. An old 12-gauge modified, with a break action that didn't have an eject for the shell. The stock was cracked, glued, and taped, and the barrel was camouflaged with rust blotches. An old beater, to be sure, but it took a good deal of birds nonetheless.

He lent the gun to me (and a good deal of shells) for a whole month, and in exchange I have been able to offer him my time and the sinews in my back when he needs the extra help. My dad helps some of his contacts with processing their firewood, and in exchange has access to their gardening equipment, or their snowplow in the winter, or their expertise with engines.

In the same fashion, I have been guiding a friend of mine on a few fishing holes in the area, and in exchange, he's been happy to provide transportation and often times provide the food and beverage to accommodate day long excursions. He's more generous when we're actually catching fish, to be sure, but that just keeps me on my toes to offer up the best experience I can.

In this way, each person has something to offer the other person, and by working together everyone gets what they want or need. There is rarely money exchanged on this credit system of labor, and when there is it's usually for the mutual benefit if the group i.e. food and drink. In this way, relationships are fostered, trust is built, and your time is well spent with people you support and who support you. When you think about it that way, doesn't it make more sense to shake a hand then write a check?

“The propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.”
- Adam Smith

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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