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From the email list March 2013...

I have two upcoming workshops in which I want to incorporate conversations around gifts. Both groups are with community leaders (and emerging leaders) - one is a rural women's leadership circle and another is a church group.

My intention is to invite them into discernment about their own and each other's gifts, and then invite them to consider how they might bring meaning and transformation into their communities by offering those gifts and supporting each other's offerings. There will also be some conversation around what it means to participate in a gift economy.

I'd be interested in any ideas, questions, tools, games, etc. that people have used for this kind of conversation/workshop.



Hi Heather!

lovely idea to incorporate a conversation around the gifts! it's always a juicy conversation...

In the gift economy workshops I've been co-hosting, we usually start by watching the sacred economics video of Charles Eisenstein. It's a great conversation starter. then we share some questions and reflections. We talk about what gift economy is and so on. then I usually share my own story, how I live in the gift economy.

Second part is an exercise which I think you might be able to use. It is from Charles E.'s workshop. We make three rounds and people work in two's. We ask these questions:
First round: What is it that you would do, were you not limited by money or other concerns? What is the gift that your heart wants to offer to the world? what would make your heart sing?
Second round: This time, partners can touch each other on the shoulder or arm or wherever they like (should they choose to touch), look in the eye, and tell one another what gifts they see in the other. 
Third round: Having answered the first two questions, now what is it that prevents them to offer their gifts to the world?
As one speaks, the other only listens, and offers no advice or solution. Occasionally the listening partner can ask: "is this really true?"

In the third part of the workshop, we host a gift circle. In the gift circle, we make three rounds: First we speak one or two things that we can gift to others in the circle. In the second round, we share one or two things we need currently - it can be anything, from childcare, to emotional support to money to wanting to learn crochet. Third round, we match gifts with needs. Either by making another round around the circle, or by letting people just go and talk to one another as they see gifts and needs match.




I offer these ideas and hope you can bounce off of them to fit your style
and the group.  these are quick descriptions.  Please contact me if you want
more detail.

Stories of Gifts - I invite participants to tell a story about a highly
memorable gift that they received; and a story about a highly memorable gift
that they gave.  We do this in circle if the group is small or in smaller
groups, if large number of people.  We then talk about the feelings they had
in each situation.
I expand to an imaginary activity by asking "What gift would you most like
to give to this community/organization?  What gift would you like to most
receive from this community/organization?"  We then discern the meaning to
the group.

Give, Gain, Gather  - I create a chart on the wall with 3 circles or
columns.  Give, Gain, Gather.  Give is what each person wants to give
(skill, experience, object, etc); Gain is what each person wants to receive,
and Gather is the ways that each person wants to work together with others
to give and gain.  Each person either writes answers on post-it notes and
pastes; or shares their answers.  We then discern the themes and meanings.

Symbolic Sharing - I invite participants to bring objects that they perceive
as representing their gifts and each other's gifts.  We give the objects to
each other, explaining the gifts.  Each person has a wonderful pile of gifts
in front of them.  The group then talks about how the gifts can be combined
or connected to create a larger whole.  We physically move the gifts to
demonstrate the connections.

Barb Pedersen



I have found Peter Block's "gifts conversation," as described in his book
Community: the Structure of Belonging, to be a wonderful framing--one that
takes people deeply into their authentic selves.  It's worth reading the
whole section (pp.139-142) if you can get your hands on the book.  Here are
the questions he suggests:

What is the gift you currently hold in exile?
What is it about you that no one knows about?
What are you grateful for that has gone unspoken?
What is the positive feedback you receive that still surprises you?
What is the gift you have that you do not fully acknowledge?

Block also suggests as part of the closing of an gatehring to ask people to
specifically acknowledge gifts they have received from another individual
during the time they have just spent together.

I also love his wise and wry framing of the essence of this conversation:

"In our attraction to problems, deficiencies, disabilities, and needs, the
missing community conversation is about gifts. The only cultural practices that
focus on gifts are retirement parties and funerals. We only express
gratitude for your gifts when you are on your way out or gone. If we really want to
know what gifts others see in us, we have to wait for our own eulogy, and
even then, as the story goes, we will miss it by a few days.

In community building, rather than focusing on our deficiencies and
weaknesses, which will most likely not go away, we gain more leverage when
we focus on the gifts we bring and seek ways to capitalize on them. Instead
of problematizing people and work, the conversation that searches for the
mystery of our gifts brings the greatest change and results.

The focus on gifts confronts people with their essential core, that which
has the potential to make the difference and change lives for good. This
resolves the unnatural separation between work and life. Who we are at work
is our life. Who we are in life is our work. The leadership task--indeed the
task of every citizen--is to bring the gifts of those on the margin into the

This applies to each of us as an individual, for our life work is to bring
our gifts into the world. This is a core quality of a hospitable community,
whose work is to bring into play the gifts of all its members, especially

Ben Roberts


I recommend Lewis Hyde's book "The Gift" which has a wonderful fairy tale about the girl who is most generous receives the support of the universe, while her sisters fear and greed net them trouble. I love sharing that story before opening the conversation of the gift economy. Lewis' book is a must read for us all, to make the clear distinction about what arises in the gift economy (art, parenting, etc.) and the need to be creative and clear in relating to the market economy.

Very inspiring for me.
To talk about gifts appears as a path for a very quick shift in a group. The question what do I want to receive lead me to my deeper desires. The question what do I most like to give lead me to my potentials, my resources and my better attitude. And the third circle brings the attention to the ways of communication and the system behind. Wonderful. I would be very grateful, if you find some day time to describe the process in detail.
Thanks for this gift,
Hello Heather,

I'd like to share a Gift discovery process which may spark some ideas...

I just had the good fortune of spending the last three days with Jack Pearpoint and Lynda Kahn from Inclusion Press (

Jack, along with the late Marsha Forrest, John O'Brien and Judith Snow developed a group planning process called MAPS in the late 1980s, that was originally used in supporting students with disabilities and other roles that have been devalued to move into mainstream classrooms.  The process uses an exploration of a person or group's history to focus on naming their gifts and what it will take for others to receive those gifts. It also incorporates graphic facilitation and is a powerful and often transformative process.

The MAPS process, in brief, is as follows:

1. Hearing the Story: A person shares three stories which speak to the question: What can my past teach me about my gifts?  One of the stories is about a recent moment.  The story-teller is also asked to share a central image for each of the stories and one thing that the story says to me at that moment.  Everyone else listens - no advice or analysis is given.

2. Honoring the Dream: The story-teller is then asked to reflect on the question of What is my Dream/ my personal vision/ purpose?  Again, the person is supported in creating an image that expresses the Dream and is asked What does the Dream tells me about my gifts?

3. Recognizing the Nightmare: The next step is to briefly identify the shadow side of the dream.  This is captured in an image (which is smaller than the Dream) and the question is asked What can the Nightmare can teach us about your gifts?

4. Naming Gifts: The rest of the group is asked to reflect on the stories that have been shared and notice what they say about the story-teller's gifts and contributions.  They are asked to name the gifts, which are recorded. The story-teller is asked to what it is like to hear these gifts named and to add to the growing list.  Some key summary words are identified and an image can be crafted to symbolize the Gift.

5. What it Takes: Everyone in the group is asked to think about what it takes for others to receive the story-teller's gifts and name them - places and roles in the community where the gifts might be received, support needed, expectations that will encourage offering of the Gift, things to learn or practice in order to develop strength in giving...

6. Action Agreements: Some concrete steps are agreed to amongst the group in order to create opportunities for the person to give her gifts. 

All of the images and words are harvested on a large template, which can make for some pretty inspiring wall paper!

Here's a link to some more resources:  &

I look forward to hearing how your workshop goes.

Kind regards,

Chris Lee
I LOVE Lewis Hyde's work and so happy to see him copied on this email.  He was a massively influential thinker in my life and his work on gifts is unparalleled.  Gratitude to you Lewis!  Here are two blog posts I made on his work nine years ago:
My favourite Peter Block question on gifts is "What is the gift you hold in exile?"
Chris Corrigan
Hi, Chris and AOH team,
Glad that Lewis' work has been of use for many decades.  As I wrote to Heather, Lewis and I were part of a fabulous program for teens that the American Friends Service Committee had in Pittsburgh, PA in the 60's.  We had circle conversations, seminars on subjects of our own choosing and workcamps where we did real work in poor communities.  
I also danced in a performance piece inspired by the Gift, called First Fruits, choreographed by Sally Nash in Sperryville, VA in 1986. 
Peter Block's focus on gifts instead of deficiency makes so much sense.  As an educator, I focus on making the space where every young person understands that he or she has gifts that world needs.
Dear All,
Thank you for such a rich and inspiring conversation on gifts. I just saw this TED Talk, on The Art of Asking and found it inspiring, in the spirit of this conversation :
It's lovely to see your name appear on this stream of conversation Lewis. I, too, have been greatly influenced by your work in the past few years and have recommended your book in many of my leadership workshops. Your book and Sacred Economics inspired me to bring the gift economy into my work by changing my business model for my leadership coaching. I wrote about it here: 
Thank you to everyone who has responded to this query about my upcoming gift conversations. You've given me much fodder for thought and I'm sure it will be a rich conversation. 
I consider this AoH list to be part of the gift economy - we regularly gift each other with ideas for our work, and for that I am deeply grateful.
Heather Plett

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More on this conversation from the email list...

Hi Heather, 

Thank you for sharing your exploration with this group. I wrote an article last year called Unwrapping the Gift Economy. It explores the consciousness behind gift culture. Might be useful and thought-provoking for you.
Best wishes,
Michelle Holliday

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