More Than Money
Issue #37

Money and Community

Table of Contents

“Messages to the Future”

By Pamela Gerloff

Pamela Gerloff, Ed.D., is the editor of More Than Money Journal . Her prior publications and consulting work in schools, businesses, and nonprofits have focused on learning, growth, and change. She holds a doctorate in human development from Harvard University.

I once heard a prominent member of the simplicity movement say laughingly to an audience of eager listeners: "Everybody wants 'community'-but the trouble with community is other people! " The French writer Jean-Paul Sartre expressed a related idea when a character in his play No Exit concluded: " L'enfer, c'est les autres." ("Hell is other people.")

Such comments give voice to a basic human dilemma. We want community and connection, but other people sometimes rub us the wrong way. We want to share with others, but we like to have things for ourselves. We want to be part of a community, but we also like our separateness. The friction caused by these competing desires can be uncomfortable, and that discomfort can lead us to make choices we might not always select if we were to take a slower, more careful look at the consequences. When it comes to money and community, those consequences can be subtle, but deep.

My mother used to tell me that one thing she loved about our town was the fact that it had economically integrated neighborhoods. At first I didn't know what she meant; it wasn't until I saw other small towns, with their rows of look-alike houses for factory workers well sectioned-off from areas with individually designed, higher-priced homes, that I started to get an inkling that our town was unusual. Within our city limits, doctors' and lawyers' houses sat next to factory workers' homes. Big houses were built next to little or mid-sized ones. Almost all of the children in those houses went either to the city's public schools or to the local Catholic school, the only private school around. The mixing of professional and working classes, living together as neighbors in common, daily life, seemed natural. Normal. The way things were and ought to be. 1

Like my mother, I now consider the economic integration I grew up with to be quite rare-and valuable. The choices made by the citizens who first built the town created a lasting legacy for generations to come. The subtle message conveyed by the underlying housing pattern was a fundamental sense of equality and human dignity. We were all part of one community . People didn't always get along, and they didn't necessarily all mingle too much with one another, but they weren't cordoned off from each other. The criterion for being a respected member of the community was not what kind of house you could afford. If you were present, you belonged.

I cherish that legacy. Certainly it wasn't perfect. Our small community wrestled with most of the same problems that other communities did. But I am intrigued by the thought that somewhere back in an earlier time, the choices that some people made about the relationship between money and community conveyed a message to future generations.

The idea that the choices we are making about money today will affect future generations of communities reverberates throughout this journal issue. If we listen to the voices in this issue, we can't help but be reminded that "community" is not about money; it is about more than money. Yet our views about-and our relationship to-money influence the way we conceive of and experience community. Surely the American Indians of the northwestern United States, who regularly held potlatch ceremonies to share the tribe's bounty, viewed and related to money differently than does the board of directors of a large corporation whose business strategy includes putting local community businesses out of operation.

On The Cover

Among the Northwest Indians-who lived in what is today Washington, Oregon, and northern California-the potlatch ceremony was a ritual through which gifts such as food and clothing were distributed to members of the community. Those who shared their wealth in this way were regarded with admiration and respect.

Artwork: Our People, Giving Away
By Sam English of the Turtle
Mountain Redlake Chippewa Indians
in Redlake, Minnesota

And just as surely, the consequences of each group's choices about money and community have affected and will affect generations far into the future.

The word "community" derives from the Latin cum munere, which literally means "to give among each other." What is given might be money-but it might also be time, respect, friendship, or perhaps a helping hand. Bernard Lietaer, a specialist in complementary currencies that develop strong community relationships, has said, °I define my community as a group of people who welcome and honor my gifts, and from whom I can reasonably expect to receive gifts in return."

In this journal issue, we see that money can indeed be one of those gifts. And when money is used in conjunction with other gifts such as respect and dignity, it can enhance and facilitate community, now and in the future-if we choose to make it so.

The provocative interviews, articles, and stories on these pages invite us to remember the future and to think about the messages we are sending it, even as we use our resources to enhance our own-and other people's -lives today.


1 In recent years, with high rates of growth in housing, including subsidized housing complexes, the town has grown less economically integrated.


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