Currency of Kindness

Time banking and the pleasure of others


I have truth-tested these claims: the payoffs of belonging to a real community include (1) saving more money, (2) having more fun, (3) feeling needed and appreciated, (4) pushing against the mandates of a corporate state, (5) receiving kindnesses, (6) honoring the human spirit, (7) reducing stress, (8) getting free help with yard work and (9) learning surprising, positive things about oneself and others. This week, I’m inviting readers to test these claims for yourselves by participating in a time bank. Have one nearby?

Last year in these pages, I reported having teamed up with author Mick Winter and two others launching the Napa Time Bank. Time-banking is the brainchild of human-rights attorney Edgar Cahn, author of No More Throw Away People. It offers a means for people to get things done for one another without spending money, and in doing so, create a functional community. I had the honor of meeting Cahn in person last year, hearing him speak on several occasions and being challenged by him personally to take on a task I had no idea how to pursue: community organizing.

Trying to wiggle out of it, I said, “But Edgar, I have no idea how to do this.” He replied, “Juliane, do you think I’m going to let you get away with being passive about this?”

Damn. How did he know just which button to push? I still don’t quite know what I am doing, but almost a year later I am voluntarily co-coordinating a 40-member time banking community that trades time instead of money to get work and play accomplished together. I knew it was the right thing to do, the socially conscious thing to do, but I had no idea when I began that it would turn out to be so much fun. I had no idea I would meet so many interesting people from so many different neighborhoods in my town.

Members of our time bank range from nine to 80 years in age. And they all post on a website the kinds of things they like to do, along with the kinds of things they would like done for them. (Members who do not use computers are assisted with this by members who do.) I gave an art lesson, and my son got his first kayak lesson through the Time Bank. A group of us helped pick olives one day. An elderly member got help with her computer and had a much-needed safety bar installed in her shower. I got my garden boxes built and my leaves raked. When I was stuck with an administrative problem, I got an hour of free consultation from a professional who happens to be a member of our time bank. Once in a while people get lonely; they ask for and receive an hour of companionship through the time bank.

These are all the kinds of things people used to do for one another once upon a time before a temporary prosperity made it easy to purchase the time of others and we all started isolating in front of televisions and computer screens.

As strange as this may seem to a culture that often avoids contact with the neighbors, all solutions to the problems standing between us and a sustainable world require the rebuilding of in-person community. No online community can take the place of a real face-to-face community. Only as part of an in-person community can we reclaim our social selves fully, recognize the innate and healthy interdependence that makes us human and re-learn how to relate comfortably with kindness, manners and humor in group efforts that benefit everyone.

So what’s the challenge? Join or start a time bank and see what happens. There are people all over the country doing the same, and in dozens of countries around the world. Time-banking has been around for about two decades, so there are people everywhere willing to share what they know about it. Rebuilding community is the mandate of our times. As Cahn would say, “Do you really think I’m going to let you be passive about this?”

To learn more about time banking, go to