Trickle Down Personal Growth: The Bankruptcy of New Age Economics

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I was on the phone with my good friend Garliq today (the only person I know to weave together Non-Violent Communication, activism and herbalism) and a phrase lept out of my mouth in an attempt to get my attention. The phrase was ‘trickle down personal growth.’

We’d been speaking about how many of the business coaches in this scene encourage their clients to raise their rates and to charge what they deserve. Of course, this is often a fine idea and I encourage it myself but, it’s good to step back once in a while and ask ourselves that age old question, “What if everyone did this?”

Well, if every life coach, holistic practitioner and permaculture practitioner out there took this advice to heart, what it would mean is that only rich people would be able to afford our help. They’d get all the best massages, go to yoga classes, have food forests in their backyard and send their kids to Waldorf schools. They’d have the most nutrient packed elixirs every morning as they drove their hybrids to meet with their clients.

You get the idea.

But this lifts up two troublesome questions.

The first is this, “Is this the world we want?” I think for most of us, the answer is a very clear, ‘No’.

The second is, “Will this create the world we want?”

Do we believe in the trickle down economics of personal growth? Are we so certain that, if enough rich people got their chakras aligned that the architecture of our body politic would realign as well? That if their fascia got worked that the connective tissue between communities would automatically be strengthened? That if they questioned their stressful thoughts that the larger world would be healed? Do we think that if rich people did enough wheatgrass shots every day, ate a balanced, whole-foods diet and alkalized their systems that world hunger would end? Do we believe that if rich people healed their relationship with money that poverty would vanish? Do we believe that if rich people came to peace with their inner tyrants that dictators and despots would vanish or if they healed their relationships with their ancestors that the racial divisions that divide us would vanish and black lives would finally matter?

Is that what we believe? That the benefits of all of this healing and personal growth will somehow trickle down to the lower classes and people of colour?

It’s worth wondering about.

Certainly, as we walk down this twisting road of the modern mystery of right livelihood, we need to sustain ourselves and our families in our businesses.

I’m not making anyone wrong for charging more or only selling to the rich. Garliq told me that many of his colleagues’ clients come from outside of their own politically progressive communities because their friends can’t afford to pay enough to sustain them. I know a weaver in Cape Breton who sells all of her weavings to tourists because her own people can’t afford them. Perhaps you’re in this situation to or, at least, wouldn’t mind finding some wealthy people who could afford you and I certainly hope that you do.

But I want to suggest that, in addition to our personal financial sufficiency we also need to allow our political values and wonderings about accessibility to have a seat at the table of our considerations so that we might consider where we could implement pay what you can models, privilege-based pricing or other possibilities that might allow those who normally couldn’t afford our services to benefit from them.

If not, is this it? Is this the end goal: We become rich by helping rich people? Is that where it stops?

Certainly, the times we are in might ask of us to broaden to scope of our understanding of social change to rise above and beyond the anaemic encouragements to see our personal business as a movement and to, instead, look for real movements and real, grassroots, non-profit organizations in the world that we might support with our time and dollars.

It might ask us to be a part of building real, local, resilient alternatives to the modern, soul-destroying, mono-cropping, self-centering capitalist economy in which we live.

Raise your prices? It can certainly be a fine idea and needed at times. I wouldn’t dissuade you from it.

But what of the rest of the world that can’t afford our services?

May that question be a thorn in our minds til the end of our days.

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