Amanda Palmer and the art of caring

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Is “love” an equal trade?

By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor

Love or hate her, Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk premiered on March 1, entitled The Art of Asking. Much of Palmer’s 14-minute video is spent talking about her career as a musician, and how working on the street as a living statue—and having to ask for money—taught her what she now believes was everything she needed going into the music industry. Although she is speaking of the industry, a lot of what she says applies to a broader concept she uses several times in the video: community.

Community used to be more than just an amazing comedy series and a term people use in psych, philosophy, and sociology papers (ironically, usually as test subjects); “community” used to be a something else. Palmer speaks of times where fans have graciously offered her band food, a place to sleep, and instruments to practice on—all implied that they only asked for her music in return. But is giving a person something physical, like a bed, the same as giving someone an abstraction, like friendship (or, to quote Palmer, “love”)?

People need both to get by. After all, what’s more wonderful than sharing a bed with someone you love? The flaw with that though is that she’s making her own music, which people are either going to either love or hate. There is still asking and giving, but who is actually going to say ‘no’ to having their favourite artist, someone they’ve never actually met before, sleeping on their bed? Would that person honestly do the same for a homeless person?

Community isn’t about picking and choosing who you’ll share things with. Community is about being there for each other, for everyone. The fact is that there isn’t enough love, and it doesn’t matter if “love” or “friendship” are abstractions—if you feel it, that’s all that really matters. Palmer repeatedly asks in the video, “is this fair?” By which she means, is the trading of something physical (bed) for an abstraction (friendship) a fair trade? Honestly, if both parties feel they’re getting something out of such a trade, then yes, it is. But such a trade can only work on the whole if everybody is on board with the idea, and that’s assuming everyone has something to offer.

Go back to that homeless person for a moment. You’ll be offering him or her a bed, and it’s assumed that in return, that person will always love you a little bit for lending them that bed. Do you think that’s a fair trade? And that isn’t a question meant to condescend; it’s an honest question of morality. Do you feel justified by the idea of knowing that at some point, you bettered someone’s life, if even for only a moment, and you now meant the world to them?

Realistically, most people in any kind of town or city setting are neither in the mentality nor the mood to have a community. Even those of you who live in apartment buildings, how often do you chat with your neighbours from whom you are separated by a mere piece of drywall?

There’s nothing wrong with keeping to yourself, or saying ‘no’ every once in a while. Where you need to question what you’re doing is when you sincerely don’t give a damn about the person who asks anything of you, whether it be some change or a cup of sugar.

Palmer has managed to make this love-based barter system work for her and her own “Internet community,” and that’s great. But if you took Amanda Palmer out of that equation, and asked those same people who give her everything to give you something, I can assure you, only a handful of them would say “yes.”

As people, citizens, neighbours, and classmates all have to learn to care a little more. No, we don’t have to revert back to some crazy barter system, but we do need to hold more doors open, and apologize less for not holding those doors open. We have to learn to give and not expect something in return—or at least not something physical.