The True Sharing Economy: Inaugurating an Age of the Heart

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series: From the inner to the outer sharing economy

Now let us turn our attention towards the inner meaning of a sharing economy, bearing in mind that we cannot propose a glossary definition from a spiritual or psychological perspective, for the meaning of sharing stems from the heart and not from intellectual activity alone. Even at the lowermost understanding of sharing on a personal and local level as briefly discussed heretofore, we are unlikely to comprehend the real significance of its potential until our thoughts are directed by the heart at all times. Let the heart be the architect of our sharing economy that we build with awareness and love, otherwise it will never bring about the better world we yearn for. We have tried everything else over millions of years, throughout all the epochs and civilisations that have proudly arisen and long since disappeared; all we have left is love and the heart! But how will we know when humanity is embracing the inner meaning of a sharing economy through the awareness of an engaged heart? Let us repeat, it will not be until a huge swathe of the world population comes together and somehow passionately declares their heartfelt determination to see an end to all forms of poverty everywhere, for once and for all.

Such words are easy to express but far more difficult to conceive of as a reality in the everyday awareness of countless millions of ordinary people. How then can we perceive the inwardly transformative aspects of the sharing economy, when it requires us to have a holistic view of the world that is seldom evidenced in our present-day social and cultural ideations? We may begin by contemplating the discussion above and then going within ourselves to quietly reflect on the deeper meaning of sharing in our divided world, and through our intuition perhaps we will both perceive and feel the emotional significance of what the author is trying to convey. Compassion in the highest spiritual sense means an awareness of the good of the whole, not only the particular; hence there is no absolute compassion in an awareness that is limited to the good of any single person, family, community or nation. It is by no means a wrongdoing if our awareness is generally preoccupied with the good of our own particular neighbourhood or society, but if we want to perceive the holistic meaning of a sharing economy then we must also expand our empathetic concerns to the needs of the world in its entirety, which requires us to embrace a vision of the One Humanity with sincerity, honesty and maturity. We may care for our own communities first, although we must also turn our attention outwards—as if, for example, I am called to feed my own neighbour who is hungry, before I look towards the world to see that everyone else has their basic needs secured.

A spiritual and holistic understanding of the sharing economy therefore means that we are no longer dividing ourselves from the rest of humanity, either inwardly or outwardly. And in this sense, the inner meaning of sharing is far removed from any systematic method of exchanging commoditised goods or services; it means ‘to be with the other’ in all respects—compassionately, morally, ethically and lovingly. It means to have awareness of the existence of the soul and its purpose, which is an esoteric reality that we have yet to comprehend with all its immense implications for our materialistic and commercialised cultures. It also means ‘not to harm’, for there is invariably harmfulness in the opposite propensities to sharing that result in social division and conflict, as principally defined by our greed, selfishness, hatred, and above all our complacency and indifference. But most of us are so conditioned by the cultural norms of our dysfunctional societies that we are completely blind to these higher significances of sharing, leaving us with no understanding whatever of its extraordinary versatility and import for our spiritual evolution. Hence the idea of a sharing economy is far, far greater than most of us can presently foresee. If we employ a metaphor of a craftsman who builds forms with material substance, the true innovators of a sharing economy are tasked with building forms through the energy of love; for the primary connotation of sharing in human and spiritual terms is its evidence of the existence of love—a love that means you give and want nothing back in return. Now imagine that the craftsman in our metaphor wants his business to be recognised worldwide, we can likewise see ourselves working for the business of love through selfless service to mankind—and the only way to import and export that love to every country is by universalising our demand for an irrevocable end to poverty-induced hunger.

Reflecting on the above thoughts may help us to better grasp how the sharing economy has almost no relation to the social activities and market transactions that currently define its meaning, as it should rather be rooted in an awareness of the reality of the inner Self, from which understanding it signifies the spark of something new on this Earth that presages a psychological revolution within the consciousness of humanity on a group level. It can also be construed that the moral or spiritual idea of a sharing economy has been with us for millennia, as embodied within many esoteric and religious doctrines and reflected in a symbolic interpretation of the Christ Principle. To borrow from the Christian phraseology, such an interpretation of the inner meaning of sharing among individuals leads to an awareness of the Christ within you, in contradistinction to the simplistic view of sharing in a modern commercialised society that leads to nowhere and nothing except for one’s own comfort, convenience and temporary emotional satisfaction. This gives a spiritual justification to our assertion that the principle of sharing belongs firstly to the poor and thus resides in the inner heart awareness that dwells within each individual, as variously expressed in all the ancient scriptures and teachings on right human relations. Certainly, the spiritual idea of sharing has never belonged to a self-regarding notion of social wellbeing that is pursued today as if the millions of hungry people across the world did not exist, as if the huge surpluses of food stocks and other essential commodities did not exist, as if the technology and manpower did not exist to transport these indispensable resources to where they are most critically needed.

So there is a marked difference between the meaning of sharing as an accustomed practice between people in their everyday lives, and the divine principle of sharing that can only be understood through the intelligence of an awakened heart. If we were able to raise our consciousness in meditation and properly tune with the principle of sharing as a divine conception, all we would see upon opening our eyes to the world is injustice in every direction, and an unfathomable indifference that allows millions of people to die like flies from hunger while food is left rotting elsewhere and wasted in colossal amounts. Yet we cannot save these defenceless victims of our indifference unless our governments implement the principle of sharing through a massive international relief effort to provide for adequate housing, health and medical care, sanitation, financial transfers and everything else the poor in less developed countries need to live with dignity and economic security. Only then can we talk about the true beginnings of a sharing economy as the guiding light of global social policy and international development, and we should refer to the Brandt Commission Report of 1980 to garner a broad indication of what it means to share the world’s resources through a comprehensive multilateral plan of action.

That is where the loving, compassionate and mature vision of the sharing economy is to be found, via the concept of an emergency programme of poverty eradication and economic reform that must be structured through the United Nations, since the United Nations is the best hope we have for administering a global system of resource sharing on a permanent and structural basis. Just as governments see the United Nations as an appropriate international body to decide whether or not they should go to war, however ignoble their political motives, it is also the only global institution in existence that can viably represent the common interests of all its member states in reshaping worldwide North-South relations. After all, it was the founding of the United Nations that created both the possibility and hope for a more equitable world order after the Second World War. And despite the need for considerable reform and democratisation of the United Nations System, there is still no gainsaying its potential for coordinating the immense process of redistributing aid and surplus resources to foreseeably end extreme human deprivation within a short span of years.1 

In sum, we can conclude that the idea of a sharing economy must be universal in its application, it must be predicated on the concern for right distribution as opposed to maximum profitmaking through economic competition, and it must incorporate the principle of giving without seeking anything in return—all of which must be envisioned in terms of a free circulation of essential commodities between nations under a democratised system of global governance. None of this bears much relation to our existing theories and practices of international aid, which is grossly inadequate in its present form and often transferred with conditionalities that primarily benefit multinational corporations or the competitive interests of donor nations. Only secondarily (and often very selectively) does overseas development assistance provide the means for less developed countries to redistribute wealth and improve the lives of their poor majority of citizens, which any political campaigning group will be able to corroborate in painstaking detail.

Can we hereby stretch our imaginations sufficiently to envision a world in which governments fulfill their responsibilities to guarantee all citizens an adequate standard of living, as long enshrined in international human rights law? A world in which the role of NGOs and charities in relieving human suffering is eventually surpassed by the actions of our coordinated governments working through the United Nations, whether in response to life-threatening poverty, conflict, natural disasters or forced migration in any form? A world in which Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is finally guaranteed for every man, woman and child without exception, thus signifying the very beginning of a sharing economy that moves in the right direction towards the common good at long last?2

The prospect of consummating this vision may not actually seem too radical or utopian, when we also consider the sheer amount of financial capital and wealth that is circulating around the world, and the comparatively negligible sums that are needed to lift everyone out of poverty. Yet no such vision can be realised until a majority of the global public is dedicated to this epochal cause, thence continually pressing every leading politician to put an end to poverty-related suffering as their first and last concern. Can we otherwise expect a sharing economy to be established by political elites taking action at their own behest, when the forces of commercialisation are still dictating the agenda of any politician who comes to power, and ever more so by the day? Or do we believe that billionaire corporate philanthropists can solve the world’s problems on our behalf, without the need for ordinary people to get involved in transforming society by engaging with the attributes of their hearts? Observe very carefully the actions and intentions of major donors to charities and non-governmental organisations, who often purport to be the heroic saviours of the poor by committing large sums of money to their chosen cause. Even if the outcome of their contribution is to achieve some relative good for those fortunate recipients, it still has no relation to either the inner meaning of a sharing economy in terms of spiritual unity and togetherness, or the outer meaning of sharing world resources that must be structured by governments through new economic arrangements and a significantly reformed and re-empowered United Nations system.

Henceforth, if a philanthropist becomes infused with a compassionate awareness of the need to end the existence of poverty altogether as if it were a great civilisational emergency, perhaps they would no longer be driven to make excessive profits from their commercial pursuits, instead committing their time and personal wealth to the cause of realising a cooperative sharing economy among the community of nations. Perhaps they would help build a global network of impassioned and peaceful activists, once recognising that this is the necessary means for persuading our governments to reorder their priorities and bring a measure of peace and justice to the world. Let this thought spark our imagination about what a worldwide show of support for a sharing economy might look like, as built upon an alliance of every conceivable civil society organisation, and backed by the concerted will of innumerable people from every walk of life. Thus shall be the real social movement for sharing in all its consummated glory, as characterised and animated by an explosion of joy across the world, and as recognised by its service to the most disempowered and neglected citizens. Thus shall it be, and thus shall we know that divinity has manifested again in a physical form, when millions upon millions of people uphold Article 25 as a shining beacon for the rehabilitation of our world.

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There is much more to discuss and consider as we postulate what a sharing economy signifies in the broadest terms, and it is important to recognise that our awareness of its meaning will gradually change and evolve as the whole architecture of the global economic system is restructured. We have contemplated how a first stage involves an enormous number of people worldwide calling on their governments to redistribute resources towards the hungry and the very poor, those who have insufficient access to the basic necessities of life, which can be considered the most primal expression of sharing as a global process that is gradually systematised through the construction of a just economic order. And that is when the true sharing economy will begin to reveal itself through new modes of democratic global governance and transformed modes of trade and finance, well beyond the recommendations proposed by the Brandt Commission in 1980 or the Stiglitz Report in 2009, for example.

Yet we cannot delineate an alternative global economic system that incorporates a process of resource sharing as its basic operating principle, while we continue to suffer from the effects of a corrupt, divisive and unbalanced system that functions in an opposing direction. As much as the Security Council has to be decommissioned before we can envision the great future destiny of the Assembly of Nations, the current economic system must be effectively dismantled before we can envision the anticipated structures based on genuine cooperation and sharing. The theories and blueprints may well exist, as evidenced in the proposals of many forward-looking policy thinkers and civil society groups, but no-one can predict with exactitude the eventual appearance of a commons-based system of global resource distribution in four or five decades time.

Suffice to say that over the past two thousand years, the highest aspiration of governments concerned the need to organise and advance the individuality of each nation on the competitive world stage, as encapsulated in conventional notions of state sovereignty. But as humanity comes of age, the community of nations are tasked with expanding that overly pronounced individuality to the international level on behalf of the good of the whole, through the sharing of essential resources and a cultural orientation towards ideals of selfless service. Hence the importance of the United Nations as a new mode of global economic governance is realised on the basis of trust and consensus, with each nation ultimately contributing their surplus resources to some form of global pool that is equitably redistributed on the basis of need and the common good, as opposed to purely commercial considerations or strategic national interests. Such is the quintessential vision of a sharing economy that can promote the interdependency of all nations as one village, while respecting and preserving the distinct identities of diverse populations with all their manifold cultures, racial groups, and religious and political persuasions.

For the reader who finds this vision too vague or lacking in technical details, the main point to reflect upon is that the outer meaning of a sharing economy will go through many stages of understanding in our awareness, since its development is intertwined with and dependent upon the gradual expansion of human consciousness. Again we must return to the inner dimensions of sharing in this light, as the outer or social expression of the sharing economy is extremely vast and endlessly evolving over time, and its origins lie not in thoughts or policy prescriptions, but in the latent human faculty of spiritual awareness. As we earlier intimated, the outer expression of the sharing economy in its final universal form is a reflection of our inner spiritual unity that is a basic truth on higher planes of being or consciousness, namely that reality which is referred to in the Ageless Wisdom teachings as the Kingdom of Souls. If we can accept this premise even as a working hypothesis, then the preceding thoughts may become much clearer in our minds and further inspire us to enquire deeper into this subject for ourselves.

Hearken to the prospect of millions of people worldwide calling on governments to immediately prevent the shameless reality of needless poverty-related deaths; that unprecedented occurrence will represent the first major recognition of our inner spiritual unity on the outer physical plane, as represented by huge numbers of ordinary people uniting in peaceful protest on behalf of the good of the whole—the One Humanity. That magnificent spectacle will also demonstrate the fact that a preliminary consensus exists among a significant proportion of the global public who demand a fairer sharing of planetary resources. Those who realise this is our last hope of averting further social, economic and environmental catastrophe.

While many shall disagree, no doubt, and while many shall remain impassive or unmoved by the worsening trends of world crises, the fact of a consensus will be known as soon as governments are compelled to organise an emergency redistribution of essential resources to save the dying poor in their many hundreds of thousands as the jubilant months pass by. The hearts of men and women everywhere are unconsciously ready for this consensus to reveal itself through the combined activities of those who unite on a single issue; the oppressed and neglected poor, likewise, have always been ready to lend their voice when the time comes. Then, and only then, will the true sharing movement be recognised as a peaceful and implacable phenomenon with the power to determine the policies of the world’s governments. Then everyone who participates in this cause of all causes, this movement of all movements, will know exactly what actions they should take as a subjectively unified group that is motivated by its unwavering concern for the critical needs of others.

What should be clear from these prognostications is that a reformed and justly redistributive economic system cannot be structured without the awareness of ordinary people to firstly embrace, and thereafter sustain its enduring implementation. This compels us to look at ourselves inwardly with an honest mind if we want to perceive an answer to the question that vexes every forward-looking political thinker—which is how we can bring about a definitive sharing economy that operates at the international level and fulfills the basic needs of all, while respecting planetary environmental boundaries. For there can be no sharing economy that exists throughout the entire world, benefiting every family and individual in equal measure, until we have established a more joyful, participatory and trusting way of life in our respective societies. And there can be no evolving paradigm of sharing that exists within a less resource-constrained and overpopulated planet, until every person has the economic security and freedom that is needed to explore their inborn creative potential. And there can be no sharing economy idea that persists into the long distant future without the aforesaid ability of the majority populace to embrace an awareness of the whole, as well as the particular. An awareness that understands how urgent it is for humanity to live together with a sense of unity and oneness, free from the bane of penury and conflict. An awareness that guides each individual towards a simpler and more equalised standard of living, considering the severity of climate change and environmental degradation that is currently far from the preoccupations of most people in over-consuming societies.

And if we ourselves can detect the first intimations of this new awareness beginning to develop within the vanguard of progressive thought and experimentation, then we may also begin to perceive the final destination where this expanding awareness is taking us—which is towards new modes of economic exchange and social relationships based on barter. In reality, the true nature of the sharing economy on a local level is intrinsically linked to contemporary notions of a gift economy, whereby the role of money as a currency is deprioritised in favour of the intrinsic social tendency towards voluntary giving and receiving. Therefore, allow your mind to intuitively grasp the social and cultural ramifications of implementing the principle of sharing on a worldwide basis, as encapsulated in the holistic reasoning we have stressed above:

  • Firstly, through an emergency programme organised by governments working cooperatively through relevant international agencies to redistribute essential resources and ameliorate the prevalence of hunger and life-threatening poverty.
  • And, secondly, through a restructured global economy that incorporates a systemic process of sharing natural resources and essential commodities as its fundamental operating principle, divorced from the profit motive and monopolistic private interests.

What do we foresee as the outcome of such intergovernmental economic arrangements that progressively develop over many decades, where the predominant power of big banks and financial institutions is transferred to a democratically reformed and entrusted United Nations system? Logically, the idea and existence of a sharing economy will evolve into something much different over time that is conceivable as an advanced system of global bartering and exchange, for which we may need a new lexicon of the political economy to describe. This will not be barter as we think of it now, as a primitive form of reciprocal trade once characteristic of archaic societies. Try to visualise, instead, a complex system of global resource management that is administered with the use of massive information technologies and complex transportation networks, maintaining both a sufficient and sustainable circulation of commonly-owned goods and resources between all nations.

Our concern here is not with the specific details of how these future economic arrangements may function, as there are endless hypothetical questions to be answered about how we can achieve the universal and free distribution of essential resources, especially in relation to the great public utilities like energy and water. What is more important to consider at this time are the inner changes that humanity must undergo if these outer economic changes are to become a feasible reality, from which line of inquiry we can perceive that the attributes of freedom, joy, creativity and frugality are embedded within any new global economic system that integrates the principle of barter into its foundational mechanisms and institutional framework. We can begin by thinking for ourselves in simple terms about how bartering among individuals on a widespread scale, if there is absolutely no money or profit involved, will lead to the simplification of wants and needs, a lessening of stress and greed, and the unleashing of greater freedom and inner creativity. Thence we can grasp a faint precognition of how this newfound expression of trust and goodwill on an interpersonal basis will, automatically, facilitate the introduction of bartering as an economic system within different nations, according to the particular approaches suited to each nation’s circumstances, culture and traditions. And it is that process of bartering within nations that will facilitate and sustain the introduction of a global system of bartering among the world’s governments, as if humanity had reached a stage where it resembles a great colony of ants that cooperate for the good of the whole, with the United Nations representing a metaphorical queen.

Such an outcome would not have to signify a return to pre-capitalist models of trade and consumption; on the contrary, it is an economy guided by unbridled market forces and the ideology of commercialisation that is holding us back in our evolution, and predisposing the youth towards the pursuit of materialistic goals and self-centred ambitions. There is no reason why we cannot envisage an enduringly peaceful, equitable and sustainable world order that absorbs all the good of humanity’s previous advancements in technology and science, yet also encompasses a process of free exchange of essential commodities as the bedrock of socio-economic relations. And there is no reason to suppose that such a civilisation may not include a much relegated role for private enterprise and market competition in those areas of life that are unrelated to either the fulfillment of basic human needs, or the sustainable distribution of non-renewable resources.

If we can accept these general propositions, then we may agree that the way of sharing and voluntary simplicity is inseparably connected with the eventual introduction of an advanced system of bartering and exchange among the community of nations. The effect of governments cooperating to institute these new economic processes on an international basis for the benefit of all concerned will, necessarily, go hand in hand with similar processes being instituted across nations and within municipalities, communities and neighbourhoods. And that is when we will witness the proof that humanity can live more simply and equally within the means of this bountiful Earth. Thus the greater symbolic meaning of the sharing economy can be summarised in the following terms: it will represent an imminent end to an era defined by the dominance of material and commercial values, and it will signify the resurrection of barter as the principle mode of economic exchange for the first time in modern history, albeit on a higher turn of the spiral that vouchsafes the continued spiritual evolution of our race.

• Read Part One here;

  1. Mohammed Mesbahi, The United Nations and the principle of sharing, Share The World’s Resources, 2007. []
  2. Article 25 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection. []

Mohammed Mesbahi is the Founder of Share The World's Resources (STWR). Read other articles by Mohammed, or visit Mohammed's website.