By Lisa Bland —
The season of giving is upon us, and as we transition into winter mode, it can be a busy time of preparation on many fronts. The winter may bring a welcome respite from our relentless pace—a time to spend enjoying the treasures of community and connection to friends and family. Here in the Cariboo region, it’s not hard to see how much caring exists in our communities. From coffee shops, to community groups, from services, to local businesses and recreation and leisure activities, the opportunity for personal connection is everywhere. Living in communities where we know, celebrate, share our stories with, and feel loved and appreciated by one another may be more essential to a healthy, happy life than financial security and wealth.
Love of love, love of life, and giving, without measure, gives in return…” ~The Moody Blues
This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit with Brice Royer, a Vancouver man living with cancer, whose journey of transforming the pain and depression from his illness by embracing love and connection has been an inspiration to many. I learned of Brice’s generosity in a Pay it Forward article www.vancitybuzz.com and through a connection with a mutual friend. And as friendship networks tend to bring people together, I soon found myself sitting under a tree in a park on a sunny day with Brice, listening to his philosophy and story of healing.
Brice was born in France to a French-Vietnamese father and Ethiopian mother, and lived in seven countries before the age of 18. He is known for writing the world’s most-read Craigslist ad in February 2014, Unconditional Love For $0 which had over a million views. He started a group called the Gift Economy Vancouver, and his story has been covered in the Vancouver Sun, on CTV, Huffington Post, and VancityBuzz, to name a few.
On his personal journey of healing, Brice has touched many lives with his simple message: we all need love and connection, and they are free. He describes how, after substantial research and experimentation, he came to the conclusion we need to change the story and structure of our modern societies by putting love and sharing at their core.
How would you describe your journey?
I’ve been helping strangers for a year and experimenting by selling unconditional love to heal myself of the depression from cancer. After a year, I’m happier. So despite the pain, I’ve never been happier in my life.
What made you follow this path?
I did a lot of research and discovered a lot of stories. I think stories have the power to change perception. I read The New York Times article, “The Island Where People Forget to Die” by Dan Beuttner. It’s about longevity and a man in his 60s with lung cancer that got better after he moved back to Ikaria, Greece.
When my surgeon said I have a stomach tumour, I asked her what causes cancer, and she said they don’t know. So I got a second opinion. After much research, it led me to the fact that most cancers are preventable and caused by factors such as diet, lifestyle, radiation, smoking, and environmental factors such as pollution. Only 5-10% are caused by genetics and within that there’s epige netic factors, triggers, or mutations caused by envi ronmental factors. So I thought, ok, why are we stressed? Why is there mercury in fish? Why do people start smoking? Why is there radiation and pollution? The further I went, I realized everything stopped at the economy level—and it’s a complex problem. If I kept looking there for the causes, I might not find what I was looking for, so I put it aside.
The next question I asked was, where are the world’ s healthiest places? There are seven. Of those, Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and a town in California. All of these places have the highest concentration of centenarians over 100 years, and they are healthier and happier than the rest of us. What they have in common is they live isolated from the market economy. They may live on islands or in isolated mountainous regions and they have their own economies. They are farmers, shepherds, people who work hard, who share communal lands, live in families, make things themselves, have strong communities, and extended families.
I thought well, that’ s great for them, but it’ s not going to help me.
Then I saw a story about Mark Boyle in the UK, known as the man who lived without money for two years. He did an experiment to see if he could live without it, and said he’s healthier, stronger, and happier than ever. Surprisingly, he learned security doesn’t depend on money; it depends on community.
I thought, I need to experience that.
I learned about Sacred Economics, by Charles Eisenstein, how the current monetary system based on interest and usury, along with abandoning the gift economy, has led to isolation, competition, and need for an economic system of continuous growth. I felt that a culture with a gift economy could increase my sense of belonging and decrease loneliness, and may help my cancer.
Within three days, I joined up with a friend and we talked about creating an exchange where wouldn’t buy, barter, exchange, or trade anything—we would just give and receive. This gift economy is how civilizations lived for a long time. We now live in very strange times. I started a Facebook group and my friend invited 200 friends.
So, that’s how it began. I wanted to transport everything over from a market economy to a gift economy—food, transportation, everything, as an experiment to see if it will heal me. I don’t think it will cure my cancer, but it may remove the cause at least.
This past year I had to unlearn so much. Relearning the gift culture is a deeply spiritual heart issue; it has nothing to do with lack of resources and management. The resources and people are there, and if you remove the blockages to giving everything flows better.
I learned that the closer I lived to an urban area with a lot of economic activity the less strong my community ties were. When I got sick, it wasn’t easy—losing my health, savings, and friends. I lost my social support. I decided to move back with family. It was a shock and transition from the culture of independence and self-reliance to being interdependent with others. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was necessary, and I believe it is the solution to many of our problems today, including housing affordability and loneliness. The most important skill isn’t to learn how to farm or to sustain ourselves or fight against this or that bill in the government; it’s to learn the skill of interpersonal communication and conflict resolution, not out there, but in here, with our family. Money is an easy, quick fix to have what “I” want, create my own way. The problem with the individualistic mindset is when everyone does what they want to do, we have a lack of cohesion.
In Sardinia, Italy, they have communal land with access only available to villagers and not to outsiders. There isn’t a high turnover. There is strong cohesion, which is difficult to apply in urban settings.
The problem is we’re trying to survive on our own. The more disconnected we are from our family, friends and community the more dependent we must be on the economy and jobs. The more money I had, the more dependent I was on it, and the more isolated I became. The more I had, the less I perceived I could give, because I didn’t want to lose what I had. Now that I have much less, I can actually give much more. In a Bill Gates survey he interviewed billionaires and found the majority of respondents are financially insecure. Some of the highest rates of suicide are among Chinese billionaires.
When I needed something I decided to look toward my social network and friends for hospitality and instead of asking, I decided to offer a gift to someone else. When my lease was up, I told my landlord to keep my $800 deposit for the next renter. He said are you sure? I said, “yes, I’m trying to change my life and pay it forward…”then later I asked myself, what have I done? I could have used that money. Again this old mindset and new mindset is a struggle to transition through.
Over a year ago I was in a wheelchair, bedridden for months, unable to speak, no solutions from the doctors, and I wanted to die. I realized giving helps your happiness. When you start giving, you start investing in relationship. Whatever you have, instead of trading it for money, give it away. Give your time; give your resources. You’re actually building bonds and relationships, and this is how you can support each other.
You know where my bank account is now? In your heart.