Mercy by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Mercy by Jo-Anne McArthur. Ora, a volunteer, holds the hand of a rescued chimpanzee at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Entebbe in Lake Victoria, Uganda.

I won’t sugarcoat it: sharing isn’t always easy. Some of the toughest moments of my life have been failed attempts to share things. I’m not talking about books or my bike or a pot of borscht. I mean the big stuff: living spaces, investments of time and money, collective ambitions and huge life commitments.

Take my extended trips into foreign lands in the shared space of a compact car – the best examples I can muster of sharing gone wrong. The first time I tried this with a friend in my 20s, I experienced my first truly sour end to a friendship. Too many fights over money, space and directions gave way to an ugly personality conflict, thankfully not until after we’d covered 4,500 kilometres of scorched Australian outback. A few years ago I tested the four-wheeled waters again, heading from Vancouver down the west coast into southern Mexico with my lover and inseparable best friend, a woman I thought would always be in my life. I wasn’t smart enough to realize it at the time, but the relationship was a lost cause by the drive north. We’re total strangers now. 

Yet over time, the memory of those rough patches has morphed into more than just hurt and disappointment. I haven’t unearthed any secrets to avoiding break-ups or doomed companionships, but I’ve gained perspective on my own limitations and resilience. My skin has thickened and I’ve come to see those blow-ups as necessary evils that made room for really good opportunities.

The practice of sharing is a smart personal growth strategy. It’s easy to see how crucial it can be on an emotional scale – everyone has stories like my road trips, ideally balanced by a pile of more joyful shared experiences. But sharing’s power applies just as meaningfully to our collective economic and ecological growth potential. 

Sharing is ultimately about cultivating sustainability. Its benefits come in layers, sometimes in ways we can’t immediately quantify, often with impacts whose value can’t be overstated. Rather than squandering finite resources, sharing forces us to appreciate and conserve the products of our energies. By doing it, we trump our natural fear of commitment with the virtues of cooperation. And as we find small, daily ways to support and engage each other, we are laying groundwork to share the burden of slaying bigger beasts in slower motion – perhaps even the political and social dysfunction that keep us from turning climate change into a chance at reinvention. 

This issue of A\J captures a slice of that momentum toward reinvention. “A new ecosystem of individual and corporate entrepreneurs is presenting an alternative – hopefully less destructive – model of consumption,” writes Ray Tomalty in his essay about the rise of the sharing economy and Québec-based car-sharing powerhouse Communauto’s contribution to it. With the mass proliferation of handheld tech and online connectivity, the impulse to borrow rather than buy is thriving, creating cottage industries in travel accommodation, catching a lift, lending equipment and other stuff, and odd job contracting. “The sharing economy is based on the simple fact that ownership isn’t required to get the benefits of a service or product. As some sharing proponents put it, you want the hole, not the drill.” 

Granted, too many drills (and too many other consumer goods) were made and deployed before we came (back) around to this idea. But hindsight reveals our strength and how to use it. Canada’s urban foragers, swapping networks and backyard community gardeners feed more people and waste less food. Cooperative banks, schools, houses, workspaces, bookstores and bulk-buying networks are converting shared values into economies of scale. People are coming together to reclaim the communal spaces that define their lives. 

Obviously we need more than just sharing to overcome our challenges. But every time we choose not to go it alone, every time we even choose to bet on the potential of simply sharing an idea, we get a better grip on how to move forward.  

Conserve after reading, 

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