Mutual aid should be distinguished from charity, and resources shared in ways that recognize interdependence with others rather than fostering perpetual dependence of many on a few.—Sue Bender, Plain Living
I live and work in a community that seeks to live an alternative to the consumer culture and to be good neighbors to folks in various kinds of trouble. People come from churches and schools to help us out. Often they say they want to help ‘serve the poor’. Their generosity is commendable, but they are often uncomfortable when we begin to speak to them about the ways in which the poor are already serving them—by working for little pay to grow their food and build and clean their homes and work spaces. We invite them to join for a while in a life where they and the people they see as poor can work together and be helped by one another. Homesteading and generosity are good foundations for such a life.
Such a life makes the help we give and the help we receive direct, obvious, personal and voluntary rather than distant and mediated by an economy of which we are largely ignorant. It enables us to is to do more for ourselves and for others and to help others to do the same, so that we form networks of mutual support. Neighbor families, regardless of income, help us in the garden and take fresh produce home. Some ask questions and learn how to grow more in their yards, if they have any. We sent vegetables and goat cheese to the soup kitchen up the road, and they bring us surplus bread and whatever else they have to spare.
Living by gifts freely given and freely received is not the same as living by strict exchange. People who are ill, injured, very young or very old, in the first raw stages of grieving, or recovering from any kind of disaster, need a hand up. But we recognize that part of what each person needs is the chance to help, to give, to serve.
These practical networks of support are small visible manifestations of the fact that we are all members of one another and members of the body of Christ, inseparable, each one in need of the other.