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H A P T E R . 2
do we live for if not to make life less difficult for
I found painting to be one of the most popular services
I could trade.
SEE THE LIGHT
had only been producing the LETS newsletter for a couple
of months when I noticed the account balance of one of
our members was over a thousand LETS points in debit.
That rang warning bells in my head. All the literature
I had read about LETS warned of such situations and how
“the wealth of the local community” was being
sapped by such members who took from the system without
those thoughts in mind I rushed to the LETS co-ordinator
to let her know how alert I was. She would certainly be
very pleased with me.
one of our LETS members is now over a thousand LETS points
in debit. Do we have a debit limit? … Do you want
me to freeze her trading account?”
account is it, James?”
Helen’s. She’s over twelve hundred points
in debit now.”
next few minutes forever changed my outlook on LETS and
have had an unparalleled impact on me and my LETS life.
Helen. Let me tell you a little about Helen, James, but
let me precede that with a small observation I’ve
made. LETS attracts lots of different people, but they
primarily fall into two groups: those who like to help
people, and those who really need help. We have a small
membership, and most of them are mature-aged. They’re
our best helpers because they’re fairly comfortable
with their lives, and if LETS didn’t exist, they’d
still be inclined to help others: it’s typical of
what their generation is used to doing. On the contrary,
Helen is a single mother with an eight-year-old child
and she recently purchased a house in Brunswick. It’s
an old run-down house with much need for renovating. These
debits are a result of members helping to make her house
more liveable – turning it from a house into a home.
Helen’s the other half of the LETS equation: right
now she really needs our help.”
noticed I needed a little more persuasion, so she continued.
balances can be a real problem in a LETS group when it
becomes apparent that a member is abusing the system by
taking without any intention of giving back. Now let’s
take a look at Helen’s offers. First of all she
has a piano, and although she doesn’t teach piano
lessons, she’s offering the use of her piano for
anyone who wants to take piano lessons in her home. Secondly,
she’s offering gardening, which is a high-demand
service in our group. When she gets settled in her home,
I’m sure she’ll be pleased to help other LETS
members improve their gardens. And finally, she’s
the only member we have who’s offering holiday accommodation.
She has a little country house near Ballarat that she’s
happy to make available to our LETS members for a couple
of days or even a couple of weeks at a time. I’ve
already been there myself, and it’s a lovely place
to go and just relax for a while. Helen’s not a
freeloader. She’s currently a mother with a child
who needs our help, and once she’s settled in, you’ll
see, she’ll become one of our most active traders.”
Sue concluded with a revelation that I have since adopted
as my own:
LETS points aren’t dollars. They’re more like
favours. And when you can accept these LETS points as
just being “favours” from one member to another,
you won’t be too concerned about the balances on
their accounts; either in debit or in credit. And really,
what does it matter if Helen isn’t able to bring
her account balance back to zero. I’m sure most
of our members, especially our helpers, will take pride
in knowing they’ve been able to help one of “us”.
These members, you’ll notice, have credit balances
– some quite high – and most have never asked
other members for any help, and never intend to. They’re
Givers and don’t really want anything back in return.
They’re just as excited about giving to our members,
as those that are helped are excited about receiving.
In their minds, they’re simply doing favours for
our LETS members, just as they would for their neighbours,
families and friends.”
from that moment on, I knew exactly what LETS was …
at least to Sue and to me and to our LETS members. That
LETS philosophy has stayed with me for ten years and it
has been the key motivation that has driven me to be such
an active participant in “all things LETS”.
understanding of what Sue had shared with me in such a
caring way was that the LETS account balances were just
a record of how much each member was giving to, or receiving
from, the LETS group. It was necessary to keep record
of each member’s trading activity so they could
then strive to bring their balances back to zero, thereby
keeping the system as fair as possible for all.
far, the biggest improvements I have seen in LETS groups
have come about after members have changed their concept
of the group’s purpose from that of being a local
“employment” or “barter” system
to that of being a “self-help” group. Along
with that comes a new understanding of what a LETS point
really represents: changing it from being an alternative
to cold hard “cash” to a much warmer “favour”.
KEEPING SCORE … NOTHING MORE
my LETS philosophy is …
think of LETS points like dollars. Think of them as favours.
was not hard for me to accept this attitude because my
first contact with LETS members, at the NM LETS Get-Together,
made me feel like they felt the same way. They were offering
their services to me without any hint of obligating me
to give back to them. Then when Robert cycled all the
way to my home – maybe over an hour’s ride!
–and gave me a massage which lasted for two long
and extremely relaxing hours, I felt he was doing it in
the same caring way. I didn’t ask for a two-hour
massage, but Robert had noticed my muscles were very tight
– due to stress – and needed additional massage,
so he did what was best for me. And when I volunteered
to design the newsletter for C&D LETS, whenever I
was stumped and needed help, it was given to me at once
and without hesitation.
am not so different from most people so I am sure I would
have been hesitant to “give” if I had felt
the LETS members were just trying to take advantage of
me. But it is human nature to treat people as they treat
you, so when LETS members gave to me unselfishly, I gave
back to them in the same way. This is the LETS attitude
I have tried to instil on every LETS member I have come
in contact with ever since.
what is a LETS point to me?
me start by saying that the generally accepted view by
all LETS people is that a LETS point is not cash, or federal
currency, and I agree. However, I do not feel comfortable
viewing LETS points as an alternative currency with an
equivalent value in cash, so I have stuck with my interpretation
of LETS points as being like LETS favours, and that has
always made trading very enjoyable for me. I love doing
favours for members and they show genuine appreciation
for the favour – in LETS points. It doesn’t
get any better than that!
see LETS more like a voluntary self-help group where like-minded
people in a local community give of their time and experience
to help their fellow members and feel welcomed to ask
for the same in return … just as they would from
family and friends.
rather than do all this helping without any recording
at all, keeping LETS accounts allows the group to keep
track of the members’ activities so they can balance
their trading activities fairly, knowing that once their
accounts are back to zero, they have given to the group
just as much as they have received. Basically it’s
just a matter of keeping score and nothing more.
This is how I like to explain LETS accounts to new members:
LETS group's function is to act as a bookkeeper for
their members' activities; keeping record of these “favours”
and putting the members' accounts into debit or credit
accordingly. An account which is in credit identifies
a member who’s given more favours than he’s
received, and an account which is in debit identifies
a member who’s received more favours than he’s
given. These credits have no value and can’t be
exchanged for cash. Their only purpose is to keep track
of each member’s involvement in the group so they
can aim to bring their accounts back to zero –
a sign of fair and equitable participation in the system.”
presentation I gave to LETS groups around the world was
aptly titled, “LETS Favours: Improving your lifestyle
through LETS”. I noticed the biggest impact I had
on an audience was when they grasped the LETS Favours
concept. That mind-shift produced a couple of results
I am very proud of: an immediate increase in membership
– half the guests in the audience joined on the
same night – and an increase in trading for the
following month (usually about thirty percent).
type of feedback I received from audience members, especially
from inactive members was, “I feel much happier
about trading if I think I’ll be helping people”.
it seemed that members would rather trade when they thought
of LETS points as “favours” rather than “money”.
also found that focusing on helping members, built a community-spirit
within the group, and placed a friendlier tone on each
trade. That motivated me so much more than being profit-motivated.
After all, as far as I was concerned, LETS points didn’t
have any real value, even though they represented the
value of appreciation shown by the member who had been
LETS members I have helped over the years have known I
was not obligated to help them. Trading through LETS,
after all, was never compulsory; it was always –
and still is – optional. They were grateful to get
my help; in fact, any help. It was obvious just how appreciative
they were because when I was performing tiring services
for members – such as lawn mowing, painting and
rubbish removals – I was always being offered snacks
and drinks. And the best part was that they never complained
if my work was not “spot-on”. Why would they?
Would you complain to your neighbour if he agreed to help
you with some tedious chore? Wouldn’t you just be
grateful that he agreed to be there and help you as best
he could? That was how a community-spirit was built within
the group. That was how trading became a friendlier and
more enjoyable activity. And that was how I saw LETS:
a voluntary self-help group of members who were willing
to help each other in times of need.
is a detailed example of the caring and sharing that took
place with my LETS hosts while I was travelling overseas:
IT’S ALL ABOUT CARING AND SHARING
March 2004, Kit, my LETS host in Kitchener (Ontario, Canada)
asked, “Can you paint a room for me?”
you had to keep that question in perspective.
stay in Kitchener was originally supposed to be for only
one week, January 11 to 18, but nine and a half weeks
later, I was still there! And apart from a couple of weeks
spent in Welland, Brantford, Montreal, Granby, Ottawa
and Toronto, I had spent the rest of my time in Kitchener,
and it looked like I would be there for another seven
weeks, making it a total of over three months!
I wasn’t in the habit of staying in the same place
for such a long time; my average stay with a host was
about one week. But things just turned out that way when
my plans to visit South America fell through a couple
of months earlier.
only that, but Kit also organized: two performances of
my play, The Glory of Athens; three speaking engagements
with local Toastmasters groups; a Murder-Mystery night;
a winter camping weekend with thirty-seven other crazy
Canadians; a visit to an Emu farm; a lift to Montreal
which was a six hour drive; two lifts to Toronto and back
(an hour each way); a cross-country skiing trip; and an
ice-hockey game … plus my day-to-day needs, as was
originally requested when I first made contact with KW
Barterworks, the LETS group Kit belonged to.
commitment to the LETS group, and their commitment to
me, ended after my first week, so all those extras had
been provided by Kit.
when the visits to the South American countries had to
be cancelled, Kit immediately offered to host me a while
longer, because I was the ideal travel guest!
here’s why: I washed the dishes every day; I regularly
shovelled snow from the paths and driveway around the
house; I registered a domain name for a business web site;
I also provided the web hosting; I gave web page design
tuition; and I was good company to have around, always
having something positive to say.
the more I did for my host, the more my host did for me.
You see, it was all about caring and sharing, and having
said that, I wasn’t going to paint a room …
I was going to paint the whole freakin' ground floor!
That was four rooms and a staircase which meant stripping
paint off all the woodwork – doors, windows, skirting
boards, and staircase; filling in cracks in the plaster;
then painting the ceilings and floors.
mean, why wouldn’t I?
my travels, there were many times when I had “given
more” or “received more” than our original
agreement had stipulated. To be quite honest, I found
my hosts exceeded their obligations on almost every single
occasion. Here’s a few examples I recall from my
European and African LETS Speaking Tour in 2002:
England, I had use of a bicycle for a week and repaid
the favour by doing a few hours of house renovating
for another member.
in England, I cleaned a kitchen, bathroom and toilet.
I got no extras in return, but I knew my host was expecting
a visitor for the next couple of days, and because he
was working all day, he wouldn’t have enough time
to clean those rooms. So I did it for him, and when
he got home he couldn’t believe his eyes!
Spain, I washed the dishes one morning while my hosts
were sleeping in. I just wanted to be helpful.
Norway, I was given a Polynesian Massage and repaid
the favour by helping out in a couple of ways before
South Africa, I got my first taste of working my butt
off for LETS. I was giving upto three presentations
each day for four days, and by the fifth day I’d
lost my voice!
as you can see, we just helped each other out where it
I digress, so back to painting those four rooms for Kit
was the last time you stripped? … paint, that is.
I only allowed two days for paint stripping, meanwhile,
six days later I was still stripping!
I had a couple of agonizing days sanding the woodwork
to a neat finish. Why agonizing? Because I didn’t
use sandpaper; I used steel wool soaked in mineral turpentine.
Very soon I found that applying pressure with my thumbs
gave the best results. Unfortunately, it made them ache
so much that I couldn’t snap my fingers for six
days! Just as well I was not performing my play during
that period because when I took on the role of Archimedes,
snapping my fingers was an essential part of my act!
what started out as a simple weekend paint job, turned
out to be a self-inflicted sentence lasting about three
weeks. But the results were very much worthwhile and I
never regretted it for a moment.
how did I go about my work? In a very organized fashion
… just like everything else I did.
how long it took: one day of planning and re-organising
four rooms; one day of emptying three rooms of all furniture;
one day of removing a wallpaper strip, filling wall cracks
and seventy-nine holes, repairing a door handle, removing
loose plaster off the kitchen ceiling, buying paints kopi klokker and
painting equipment; six days of stripping paint off the
woodwork; two days of sanding; two days of painting; and
one day of replacing furniture in rooms and stacking books
and CDs back into shelves.
completed three rooms of painting before I had to leave
on my Ottawa LETS trip. However, on my return I completed
the job by painting the kitchen as well. That took another
two days of stripping paint; one day of filling cracks;
one day of sanding; and two days of painting. A grand
total of twenty days!
what a great job! I was very neat and considerate, cleaning
up after myself at the end of each day. In fact, it was
very reassuring to know that if I ever ran out of audiences
to speak to, and web sites to design, I could always offer
to renovate houses!
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