Taking and giving are fundamental to life on Earth. Breathing, as well as eating and excreting and the fact that people are born and die indicate that they are part of the Earth.
There are two peaceful ways to arrange taking and giving between people, the gift and the exchange. In everyday life, both often seamlessly merge. In contrast to those who accept only exchange, we consider the wish to pass on something of the abundance we have received, i.e. to give, to do something useful, a basic human need which is at least as strong as the wish to receive something. This has been the answer to the abundance of gifts each person received since the beginning of life: life given by the mother; also her care and love – and those of others -, the inexhaustible possibilities of language, the beauty of the earth, and of things other people have passed on.
Actually, each giving is a passing on of what we have received before. And yet every single act of giving has to be a free decision between giving and not giving. Without this freedom, there is no good life. Having the choice between gift-giving and exchange is an important requirement for the freedom to give.
With this statement, we turn against the dichotomous representations of gift and exchange, where exchange is shown as negatively valued and also assigned to men, while womanhood is linked to the good and the gift. In these gender-specific associations of gift and exchange, which also existed in the patriarchal order, women became responsible for the private sphere and the gift, while the men formed the public sector, which was considered to be more important and which—at least officially—was characterized exclusively by activities of exchange.
In an ordinary life, giving has priority over exchange—people first have to receive much before they can swap. In contrast, the old symbolic order suggests that commodity, profit-oriented exchange is the center of economy and society. In the capitalist economy this exchange becomes the all-determining principle and is also an attempt to force all other spheres of life under this standard of utility maximization.
Wherever it has to do with people living together in harmony, wherever they depend on successful relationships and trust in one another, giving is of more importance than exchange. It is the foundation for everything else and hence must have priority. This is especially true for the times of life in which people are needy and dependent on care of others. But this is also true in political and business life, where nothing works if we have no reciprocity of trust, time, recognition or words.
However, bribery gifts, as are particularly used in politics and the economy, are not real gifts. They are forms of expected exchange disguised as a gift. This kind of activity harms the good life.
The willingness of many people to engage in something and to provide others with gifted work can be explained as an expression of gratitude for what has been given to them. This willingness is so very important for a good life for all, and the more it develops in societies, the more likely the necessities of life are granted. More people could act in this meaningful way if there was an universal basic income.