Share and Share Alike 

Two Berkeley authors explain how sharing can save the planet.

Children learn to cover their mouths when they cough, to not disrupt others by talking during movies, and to share their toys with other boys and girls. But somewhere along the line, we all lose the interest in sharing. According to two Berkeley attorneys, if Americans shared more of their material goods and time with each other, we could all make a significant dent in the economic and environmental problems facing our households and the world.

"There are so many things that each of us have and use that could be shared," said Emily Doskow, the coauthor with Janelle Orsi of the forthcoming book The Sharing Solution. In their book, which comes out in June, the authors provide a how-to approach to forming sharing arrangements. These arrangements can help people organize a small or large group to share material goods, responsibilities, or basic needs.

The book addresses what someone should consider before entering into such agreements, the legal logistics, and how to ensure that everyone gets the most out of sharing. Small material items, such as rakes or even suits, may require less legal paperwork than cohabitation or forming a neighborhood babysitting co-op, but both situations can be beneficial on multiple levels, Doskow believes.

"The way that our society is using resources is not going to work out in the long haul," Doskow said. "The amount of stuff we consume is not workable. So any solution, whether it's recycling, reusing, or sharing, makes a dent and produces a positive good." The authors believe that sharing can address the so-called triple bottom line by reaping financial, environmental, and personal and social benefits. Orsi sees these goals as a great place to start for people who know they want to share but don't know how to begin.

Say two neighbors both need a new lawnmower. If they were to pool their money and buy one communal lawnmower to share, they could hit all three of the bullet points. Each neighbor would save 50 percent on the cost of the mower, the manufacturer would use half the resources and energy it would have taken to build two machines, and the neighbors become closer, strengthening a community bond.

"People can just start to look at what their needs are," Orsi said. "If their goals are to save money, then they can look at what's costing them the most money in their lives. If their goal is to live sustainably, they can look at their carbon footprint. Or maybe they're just looking to meet more people or have a sense of community."

Orsi, who shares office space with Doskow and four other lawyers, goes one step further and envisions sharing as a means of meeting people's basic needs. "In my ideal world, the world's resources would be distributed so much differently," she said. "Many of people's material needs aren't being met. We have so many resources; the way they're distributed is inefficient and causes a lot of suffering in the world. A car sits in a parking lot all day while you're at work, or a vacuum cleaner is used only once a month. We have all these resources sitting there and people's needs just are not being met."

So what keeps us from sharing? When did we lose the ability to share a cookie? A lot of it probably has to do with fear. "Worrying about people encroaching too much on your personal boundaries deters a lot of us from wanting to do more things cooperatively," Orsi said. The Sharing Solution doesn't spend an extensive amount of time on personal space and conflict resolution because the authors focus on building strong communication skills and developing a clear understanding of any potential disagreements. These preventative measures, they say, open the doors to a more trusting and honest relationship.

"The more we share, the more we trust each other, and society will become a safer place," Orsi said. "If we have people coming in and out of our garage to borrow a barbecue, we're going to be surrounded by people we can trust. People in neighborhoods will be that much more connected to each other, and it makes the world a much safer, gentler, and more humane place to live."

To a die-hard American capitalist taught to covet promotions, wealth, and material goods, the word "socialism" may come to mind. However, sharing is the basis for many of America's biggest capitalist endeavors. Every year we pay state and federal taxes for the maintenance of our highways. Water, electricity, and gas are all public utilities that we as a society jointly pay for each month. Monopoly, the unabashed cheerleader of capitalism, didn't forget to put in squares for Water Works and Income Tax, after all. Still, there's something deeply ingrained in our society that causes us hesitation when it comes to communal endeavors. "Our culture itself is so structured for people to be insular," Doskow said. "We're not necessarily isolated because often we're insular with other people."

The book will be full of worksheets, sample agreements, and resources for people who want to become better sharers, and for those who never forgot their playground lessons. What readers won't find is preaching about how to save the planet and lighten your household budget at the expense of gas-guzzling Hummers and imported Italian handbags.

"When I talk about The Sharing Solution, the vast majority of people are excited," Doskow said. "But I come across people who say 'Absolutely not! I couldn't possibly share my stuff. I don't want to have to communicate with a neighbor when I want to use my own grill.' My response is 'Fair enough, not everyone has to share.'" The attorneys stress to do what works for you. Doskow, who shares baseball season tickets and is part of a neighborhood work group that pools resources to enable basic home repairs, understands that people have limits.

"Nobody can touch my Easter candy," she said.

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