Three out of four Americans don’t know their next door neighbor; for most of my adult life, I haven’t been able to pick mine out on the street, let alone tell you their names. And so many people confess to feeling disconnected, isolated and lonely- so many, in fact, that they could form a giant club if only they were motivated to.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to that isolation, from societal systems and the commodity economy to the internet and psychology. And though I find those topics fascinating (and worthy of exploration), I am more focused on those things we can do in our daily lives to combat the phenomenon. To that end, I read and absorb the conclusions of the researchers and then distill them through my own experiences to share with you on this blog.
I joined my local time bank in October 2014, 4 months prior to this writing. At first, I was disappointed at what I perceived to be slow responses and a lack of activity, even though I knew that the website transfer my time bank was undergoing was going to have an impact on exchanges. It turns out it had a major impact, and took longer than originally foreseen by the committee. There was even a significant delay in accepting new members, a situation I found frustrating as I longed to spread the word and encourage time bank participation in my own network. But, as with most things, patience was rewarded and I am happy to announce progress on all fronts! The Arroyo SECO Network of Time Banks is once again accepting new members and I’ve had several successful and fruitful exchanges with existing members!
After my initial offers of services went unfulfilled, I briefly wondered whether the fact that I was a new, unknown member might cause folks to hesitate before exchanging with me (the website transfer and general flakiness on the part of Angelenos being alternative reasons). Eager to meet some of the people who have already been using and supporting the time bank, I attended an all-member potluck where I met about a dozen members (though none from my own neighborhood). A month later, I signed up to be a vendor at a Holiday Craft Fair, held at the same location as the potluck, the LA Ecovillage. I offered my upcycled ashtray tins and my I ♥ LA stickers, and sold several for a combination of TD$ for labor and federal $ for materials.
I met several more members, including two with whom I went to have more exchanges! Fred bought some stickers, and a few weeks later used my printer to print out some documents. I bought jams from Chris, and then she came to a yard sale I helped a friend hold a few weeks later. She scored a lot of great items, and after the sale was over, I gave her a bunch more. Then I bought more jams from her (they’re delicious and also a fund-raiser for the AIDS Ride she participates in every year), which were my Christmas presents for my family.
Recently, I asked my Facebook network if anyone had a wedding gown they’d be willing to give me for an event I’ll be attending soon. Chris immediately offered up one she had in her costume closet! In the few months I’ve known her, we’ve become friends through these exchanges (only the first of which was recorded on the official time bank system), and I have no doubt there will be more giving and sharing between us in the future!
I see time banking as a great way to bridge the divide between feeling isolated and disconnected to feeling connected to your neighbors and therefore your community. For those of us who have shy moments, it offers a loose structure that can really facilitate connections. The service you give (or receive) is the seed for the initial interaction and it provides a conversation-starter. There is now at least a slight, budding relationship where before there were only two strangers, and that provides a shared ground that is far more solid than just geography.
Using the time bank also makes connection easier by removing some, though not all, of the risk. Through the website, you’re able to see whether the person you’re dealing with has had a lot of positive interactions recorded on their profile. Everyone who joins provides a personal reference who is contacted for a review of the person, so there is a semblance of screening. However, the initial exchanges are largely a matter of trust. The more exchanges a person does, the more they are recorded in the social memory of the time bank, ensuring that my good deed here will get me a service later and that it won’t just be lost to the ether the way it can often feel in modern city life. Thanks to the time bank, being an honest, genuine and reliable person leads to visible public affirmation and that, in itself, is a wonderful thing! The cynics may say that nice guys finish last, but I say that honoring and rewarding positive qualities encourages them.
Today I had my first non-event-based exchange, which involved giving a ride to the metro station to a woman named Lori, who is visiting a time bank member named Heather (who actually does live in my neighborhood, though we’ve yet to meet in person). Lori lives in St. Petersburg, FL and by the end of our short ride, she had offered me a place to stay should I ever decide to visit that area! Beyond that new friend gained, I also got 1 TD$ from Heather for the ride, and a connection to her so that whenever we meet in person in the future, we’ve already got our common ground established. I definitely feel like I came out ahead on that deal.