In late elementary and high school we studied ”social economics”. We were taught how economic activity shapes social processes and visa versa. A very good example would be the fact that people living in lower economic brackets are often excluded from voting because they can not afford to take a break long enough to return to their home area to cast a ballot. The end result being an underrepresentation in politics and political decision making. This is a real and powerful phenomenon that shapes society in a profound way. It is an important topic of conversation – but not what I actually want to discuss…
In recent years I have developed a personal habit of viewing social economy through a different lense. I think there is another – powerful force and a currency that is being overlooked. That is the sharing of time and energy – the value of helping one another. I am not speaking in an altruistic manner here. I am referring to the increased productivity, improvement in quality of life, advanced economic position and savings to the healthcare system that benefits us all and can be achieved simply by helping one another. I believe it is time we all start seeing this and honouring it as a real and important phenomenon. We need to evaluate the process in order to appreciate what I now call the ”currency of community”.
In Canada, Universal Health Care is free – but not really. We pay for our care in the form of tax dollars. So as tax payers it is in our own best interest to see and understand the cost of health care use.
The average ER visit $600 – $1000
The average hospital stay (calculated based on 5 days) $7000
An ambulance ride $240
Home care, nursing care, nursing homes – are highly variable, but all subsidised by the government which means there are administrative costs as well as staffing costs which we contribute to on an ongoing basis.
The services I list above are just a few – but they serve as excellent start to the conversation because we can all relate to needing at least one, and have family or friends that need others. I think it is also fair to say we have come to think of them as rights – rather than the privileges that they are. We often forget that they come at a cost even though they are free to us. It is in our best interest as consumers of the system and tax payers to alleviate the pressures and reduce the spending. BUT HOW??
It is actually rather simple…
We know from long term studies in health and social economics that stress, isolation and poor nutrition are key factors that lead to illness and deterioration of health. So keeping one another healthy and supported in our homes and communities is actually a very effective way to decrease the burden on health care, save time and share financial resources; which is ultimately is better for US ALL.
Said another way – helping your neighbour is helping yourself!
Most people agree that they are frustrated by long wait times for medical care, especially pared with increased taxation, decreased services and perceived service quality. Given our population, specifically right now the aging population, it is impossible to maintain the level of care and service Canadians are used to without some change in behaviour. We can not use one side of our mouths to demand a halt in taxation while demanding better care out the other. The dollars that fund services are not infinite! Understanding the resources and acknowledging the limits of our system is truly critical. The health care system is not a magical entity but rather a collection of human beings – and paper dollars. Our road to health and continued health care is not going to be paved by outrage and increased demands. It most certainly can not be left in the hands of the caregivers themselves who are already faced with a demand beyond their human capacity to keep up. The way forward is compassion, co-operation, shared responsibility and caring. We all need to see our role in filling gaps and creating an environment within which we thrive.
The fallacy we are living is that we think we don’t have time. The truth is – we do, and the more we think about one another, the more time we will have! Little gestures and small moments add up in very real and effective ways. This refers to health and also a spending of time and dollars.
Here are a few examples:
If I am making a lasagna for my family it takes no additional time – and minimal resources to make it in a larger pan. I finish with extra portions, which I can then share with my neighbours.
I may share with my neighbour next door – who is alone with her kids. As a result, she has a break from preparing supper and can spend some time with her kids playing, or take a walk, or a nap, or get the house clean – whatever she needs to do. She has a little help to avoid fatigue.
Or perhaps I will share with a different neighbour. An older person living alone. This ensures my neighbour is having some healthful meals and has some social connection. Long term this will help my neighbours stay healthy feel they can call on us for other help if needed.
If I have a snow blower and my neighbour doesn’t. I can clear that neighbours driveway in 10 or 15 minutes. That saves my neighbour an hour of shovelling – but only ”costs” me a few minutes. Later, perhaps my neighbour will share a meal, which costs him only a dollar or two in ingredients but saves me the time and cost of preparing my own. Now it is to my own benefit that we have begun to share with one another.
Imagine your neighbour is having difficulty with balance, so you start taking out the trash for him each week at the same time you are taking yours out. This ”costs” you about 5 minutes. As a result your neighbour avoids falling and is able to stay home safely without calling on support services. This reduces the stress on our health care system and saves tax dollars. You also build a relationship. Now you have someone to call on to watch your kids for a few minutes, or check the mail when you are away. Maybe you begin sharing resources, like a lawn mower or hedge trimmer. When one of your tools breaks down neither of you needs to replace it. It is all about simple sharing.
What about a friend who’s truck gets stuck in the ditch? He can call a tow truck and pay $100 dollars to be pulled out, or he can call YOU. You head over with a shovel and are able to get him out in about 10 minutes. A few weeks later – you call on him to see if he can come with that same truck to help move some furniture. His help means you no longer need a rental and will not have to do the heavy lifting alone. Money saved, timed saved, connection and time with a friend. Everyone wins (and we aren’t even talking about the little extra exercise we can all use!)
The examples could keep going.
It is not a new and innovative approach. It is a return to old values and a way of life that recognizes community beyond a social construct. Community as a resource, and as a collective.
We often excuse ourselves, continue on in familiar comfortable patterns because we are just so busy, tired, overwhelmed. It is normal and natural to huddle under the covers of routine and avoid change. Unfortunately, change is required if we hope to maintain the quality of life we have all come to wish for and expect.
The good news is it’s not actually hard. It is a collection of small adjustments and brief moments. Even better news, very soon after you begin you will find yourself with more time, more energy and feeling a sense of improved connection. You will soften the sense of being alone in the struggle, and begin to feel you are pulling the rope along side a small team. You will realize that every bump in the road does not need to involve more money out of your pocket, and does not need to cause suffering, it can be an opportunity to ask for help, to share things and share support.
This is the currency of community. THIS is real and it is time for us all to start the exchange.