One of the concerns I have heard about time banking is that it will detract from the pure benevolence of volunteering. Indeed, there is much value in simply participating in life and serving one´s community without seeking anything in return. However, in our dichotomous economic system, participating in life is usually seen as either something you profit from, like a paid job, or something you give yourself to, like a charity. But as Edgar Cahn points out, “Charity is wonderful, but most people don’t want it. Many people won’t accept help if it is welfare.” Time banking allows people to participate in the life of their community in the space between profiteering and volunteering, a model which is much more in sync with the natural rhythm of life.

Is it really so unthinkable to design a helping program that functions like a community, rather than like charity?¨ Cahn continues. ¨Time Dollars may appear to compromise the spirit of volunteerism, but that is mainly because we have drifted so far from a sense of real community. In practice, Time Dollars strengthen the volunteer spirit by providing a context of reciprocity that turns service into a real force, rather than just a political bromide to avoid facing social needs.”

While government assistance programs have seen many more participants over the last few years as people have been forced to rely on unemployment and food stamps in order to survive in the wake of the economic crises which have befallen us, many are too proud to take advantage of such things. And those that are reliant on such programs do, on some level, suffer the anguish of a lowered self esteem based upon their inability to operate in the world without such assistance. Many conventional volunteer programs that serve the needs of those citizens that are unable to compete for survival in the Darwinian construct of capitalism are also left wanting because of the lack of reciprocity in their activities.

Such programs,¨ Cahn points out, ¨are built on a status ladder: paid professional staff at the top, volunteers in the middle, and needy recipients at the bottom. This divides the world into the able and disabled, givers and takers, haves and have-nots. The model is charity, rather than community. And the volunteer becomes second-class and dispensable.”

Time-banking helps institute programs that allow citizens to be the able-bodied participants in their community that they are fully capable of being, without relegating them to the role of ¨societal sponge¨ that seems to serve as the scourge of our system. It allows people to both give and receive, opening them up to a truer realization of abundance and a greater sense of self esteem.

Certainly, people will never stop volunteering. We have an intrinsic need to serve the world benevolently, and those who have tasted the joy of giving without the need to get back will continue to cultivate that joy through their very being. However, for those who have been cast by the wayside in this economic climate of ¨looking out for number one,¨ time-banking offers the opportunity for them to realize that we are all One.


Steve McAllister is the author of The Rucksack Letters and How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. He posts regularly at The Unbroken Path and is currently the Director of Operational Development for the Common Wealth Time Bank in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.