Welcome to Summer and Happy Canada Day! Oh glorious sunshine and blue sky, how I have missed your loving presence and look forward to bathing in your energetic embrace. I have been playing reporter of late, and here I present two of my favourite interviews of people that are stirring the pot, and being a true inspiration. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments, as I have learned, it's impossible to be completely neutral. We're all walking around with our biases, conditioning, and filtered lenses from our upbringing/cultural values with each interaction with someone else. Let all of us be gentle with one another, and remember to live in love instead of fear.
Game Changer: Brice Royer, Founder of Vancouver Gift Economy Community
Brice Royer signing a cheque to pay for someone's full year rent
Photo courtesy of Kelli https://m.facebook.com/Stevestonvillagephoto
A: Tell me about yourself Brice Royer?
B: Two years ago I was in a wheelchair, bedridden for months and the doctors couldn't help. Now I'm climbing trees! All I did was avoid toxins and my body did the rest. No surgery, and no medication. It seems hard to believe sometimes. The doctors said I have a rare form of stomach cancer. I wasn't interested in a cure. I wanted to know the cause. "What causes cancer?" ...I asked my doctors. "We don't know." they responded. I felt frustrated. I lost my health. My friends. My work. So I spent several years consulting many experts from various Universities and Hospitals. I learned that 90% of cancers are caused by "environmental factors", such as diet, lifestyle, exercise, pollution and only 5-10% genetics. But why is our food toxic, our air polluted, and our lifestyle unhealthy? Why are babies born with over 200 harmful chemicals, such as plastic? Why are millions marching against GMO foods? Why do people smoke? It was a Nobel Economist who explained it to me: Money. This really surprised me because I couldn't see the connection at all between our economic system and my health. So for the past month, I've been on a journey to unlearn what I've been taught, and trying to learn a healthier way of living.
A: How is money related to physical health?
B:I had a really hard time understanding it too. It's kinda like telling me: "Eating French fries or candy from a fast food restaurant is unhealthy for you." Huh? What are you talking about? How can something that tastes so delicious be unhealthy for me? It was hard for me to see the connection. I needed to see the science. What I learned is that our economy is like an onion. It affects our health in multiple layers -- and not just our physical health, but our mental health, our relationships, our environment, and yes, our work, careers and careers as well.
A: Which economist told you that?
B: One of them is the Nobel Prize Economist and former World Bank chief Joseph Stiglitz. He basically is saying that our economy is unsustainable environmentally and socially. One problem is income inequality. He says and I quote: "Some people say we have this [income] inequality because some people have been contributing much more to our society, and so it’s fair that they get more. But then you look at the people who are at the top and you realize they’re not the people who have transformed our economy, our society. They’re not the inventors of the lasers the transistors, the computer, the discoverers of DNA. They’re the bankers that exploited the poor, the CEOs who took advantage of the deficiencies of our corporate governing structure to a larger and larger share of the corporate revenues without increasing the productivity and performance of the companies or our economy as a whole.. Because the rich, needing few public services and worried that a strong government might redistribute income, use their political influence to cut taxes and curtail government spending. This leads to underinvestment in infrastructure, education and technology, impeding the engines of growth.” So in other words, the reason why Vancouver has 'teacher strikes' and underfunded education, health care and social services, is because of one of those reasons. The economy is actually the biggest factor on your health, even more important than exercise, diet, and vitamins. One study, for example, suggested that the loss of life from income inequality in the US in 1990 was the equivalent of the combined loss of life due to lung cancer, diabetes, motor-vehicle accidents, HIV-related causes, suicide and homicide.
A: What was your profession before you got sick? What kind of life did you lead?
B: So that's only one layer of the onion. But there are more layers. Most people don't realize accumulating money has side-effects on your health. Social psychologist Paul Piff a doctoral candidate in social and personality psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, describes how wealth changes almost anyone's behavior, mental and physical health. His study went so far as to show that higher-class people will literally take candy from the mouths of children. He writes: “The more money a person makes or has, the less generous, helpful, compassionate, and charitable he is toward other people,” Other studies found that consumerism and money causes a psychological disconnection linked to being worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes per day, twice as worse as obesity and alcoholism. Before I got sick, I was the founder of a non-profit organization. We support expat kids who grew up in different countries. But at a very young age, I was an internet entrepreneur. I started my first business at 8 years old selling magazines at my school. I was always into social entrepreneurship and believed that money could be a force for good. So this was really hard for me to understand.
A: Is it due to stress? that people get sick from income inequality? Canada is among the wealthiest nations. Go to India or Phillipines, people are happy living in garbage dumps
B:That's what's very surprising to me. Let's take the US for example, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet, they have an increase in health and social crisis. The scientists aren't sure why people die sooner in more unequal societies. They think it may be "social status" stress. They believe it's harmful because it puts people in a hierarchy that increases competition and causes stress which leads to poor health and other negative outcomes. What's interesting to me is if you're rich and upper class in an unequal country like the UK and the US, you will die sooner than if you're lower class in Sweden, which is a more equal country.
But like I said previously, money and our economy affects us in many layers, like an onion. Let's take a look at smoking for example, one of the biggest causes of lung cancer. If you ask yourself: "Why do people smoke?" Well, you simply need to go to the American Cancer Society website and they will tell you. The biggest reason teenagers start smoking is because of advertising in block buster movies and marketing. And the reason why most adults start smoking is because of stress from economic factors. These two factors are both related to money.
A: What is your solution?
B: I don't know. I'm not a Nobel economist. But what I do know is this is a huge problem. It may have increased my chances of cancer, and millions of others too. Most people know at a deep level that the system is broken, but nobody knows what to do about it, so they continue to feel stuck in the rat cage. So I tried to reverse engineer it by asking myself… Where are the people who live up to 100 years old? Where do they live? And how do they live? And then one day after reading the New York Times, I learned about Ikaria Greece, "The island where people forget to die", one of the highest concentration of centenarians in the world. I was surprised that 40% of them are unemployed. They don't trade or use money that much. One man over 100 years old said: "In [other cities], they care about money. Here, we don’t. It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.” For the many religious and cultural holidays, people pool their money and buy food and wine. If there is money left over, they give it to the poor. "Most everyone has access to a family garden and livestock, Parikos told me. People who work might have several jobs. Someone involved in tourism, for example, might also be a painter or an electrician or have a store. “People are fine here because we are very self-sufficient,”
A: If that the measure of a good quality life? How long we live?
B: Not just how long, but how well. Many centenarians are not only free of cancer, but have a great quality of life, lots of leisure time with their family, friends and communities. One of them says: “I was not unhappy in America. We had good friends, we went out to dinner on the weekends, I drove a Chevrolet. But I was always in a hurry.” That pretty much describes the modern lifestyle we have today.
This was nice for them in Greece, but what about here in Vancouver? What can I do to change my life right now? So in my search for alternatives, I got in touch with Mark Boyle, an economist from the UK, who has lived without money since 2008. He only went to this extreme to make a point and start a discussion about our economy. But what stood out for me, is something he said: “Ironically, I have found this year to be the happiest of my life. I’ve more friends in my community than ever, I haven’t been ill since I began, and I’ve never been fitter.I’ve found that friendship, not money, is real security.That most western poverty is spiritual, and that independence is really interdependent.” This convinced me. I knew I was onto something.
A: Tell me about the community you have built and how it has effected you and your members?
B: Sometimes to move forward, I needed to look backwards. I needed to understand the history of money and our economy. I learned that in 5000 BC, there was no money or even trade. Humans never traded, "except with strangers and enemies." We still do that today. We never trade with our family; your mom would never charge you for cooking a meal, neither will your friend. But somehow, it's acceptable with strangers. And that's the problem. We created a separation from each other, our environment, and even what we eat. We're so disconnected. We don't even know where our food comes from. So why should we care about our neighbours? We're just too busy and focused on our needs. But it's not our fault. The system is designed that way. I've come to realize that this disconnection is the cause of most of our global crises today. So I wanted to return to our "roots". In my search, I was surprised there were many alternative economies, like the "gift economy" that we have with our family and friends. But I found it's this gift economy movement is all over the world that expanded beyond our families. Internationally, I found free housing, free transport, free food, free skills/services, and much more on this site for example: http://wiki.gifteconomy.org/
I was shocked. How do restaurants afford to give away free food? How can businesses afford to give away their services?
This was a brand new world for me, I was intrigued and I wanted to learn more. Unfortunately I couldn't find a gift economy group in Vancouver. So I decided to create a gift economy group in Vancouver and within 15 min, there were 166 members. And a CEO at a health clinic donated a 1000sq feet space for us to meet. Three days later, the group has given: Free rent for 1 person Frankinsence resins A hotel room for two for 7 days A healing session and wellness services A keyboard, kombucha, gardening compost, A laptop, and an iPod Touch for the community. Eventually, a stranger read my blog, and gave me a free car. But the gift isn't the car. It's the connection, the friendship, and the removal of transaction which isolates us each other. I feel so much happier by giving and receiving, compared to buying and selling. I wanted to do an experiment. Will stopping trade make me feel healthier just like Mark Boyle? Since I decided to stop buying and selling, I had to figure out how to depend on relationships instead of money. Wow. It was scary at first because I stopped depending on my purchase power for my needs, and became vulnerable to others. But now I feel so happy! Despite having a stomach tumour, I sleep better, and I feel healthier than I've ever been. I normally wouldn't have the energy to stay on the computer for so long to do this interview, for example. Normally 5 minutes is all I can do.
A: Has your illness gotten better since you begin this free economy journey? or you just feel better emotionally and psychologically?
B: I am honestly surprised at how good and happy I feel, I have never felt like this for many years. I feel incredible. And I knew this was important because it affects your physical health. I read a study that the disconnection from monetary transactions and consumerism causes loneliness which was found to be a worse health factor than smoking 15 cigarettes per day and twice worse than obesity. This shocked me! We're so focused on diet, and exercise, but here we are, completely unaware how the isolation and separation we have from each other affects us. Most people don't realize how connected your mind, body, and environment are. That's another thing that trade does - it disconnects you from seeing everything in a holistic way. It's been said that "Vancouver is a lonely city", and it's the "2nd least affordable city in the world". Well, it looks like these two outcomes are far more interconnected than I realized.
A: That's great to hear you're feeling good. Are these connections in real life or mostly online?
B: I'd say 70% of the people I have met, and some I have yet to meet but plan to. It's hard to give someone a car online, you know!
A: How do you put gas in your free car? That still requires money?
B: Here's where most people get tripped: The problem isn't necessarily just money (or gold, corn, barley, whatever resource you use), but the social transaction we do with it which is the buying, selling, accumulating and trade of it. In an ideal world, we wouldn't need money. Unfortunately, most of us don't live sustainably off-grid and have a greenhouse growing our food. In Vancouver, we are dependent in the monetary economy. But what we do with money is still our choice. We can trade and exchange money for housing, gas, and services, which will further disconnect us, harm us, and contribute to an unsustainable economy, or we can freely give and receive money, housing, and food with no strings attached. Just like we do with family and friends.
As for the car, I already have someone who offered to drive me around so I had no need for it. I decided to re-gift the car to someone else. They were really happy to receive it! On a funny note, the man who gave me the car has another car that runs on vegetable oil from restaurants. Yes, vegetable oil. Not gasoline. He says: "In fact, when Mr. Diesel presented his new engine to the world at the beginning of the 20th century, it ran on....peanut oil."
A: then the homeless people in Vancouver should have the most right out of anybody to ask to be gifted, according to your logic
B: Not necessarily. That's another thing that also confuses people. Receiving a gift isn't about affordability. Everyone needs love, the rich and the poor. In fact, I believe it's the wealthy who need to experience removing monetary transactions the most. The poor already understand the value of the gift economy - receiving and giving without trade. They do it all the time. However, the wealthy rely on money a lot more, and are psychologically dependent on it, despite the fact that it harms their mental and physical health. Remember the study by Paul Piff earlier? He found that the more you have, the less you give. It surprises many people that the wealthy are financially insecure too. I recall one of them saying: "I will be financially secure when I have $1 billion in the bank." Because $500 million isn't enough. In many studies, it's especially the case for wealthy children. They tend to have more distress than lower income kids, and have a high risk of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, cheating and stealing. So I would say they need to experience love too.
A: So this gifting is healing our society as a whole, not just an efficient way of resource allocation?
B: It's both and more. Again, like the onion analogy, it has multiple layers. It starts in the mind. When you give and receive, it changes your psychology. Once your psychology is changed, then your behaviour changes. Once your behaviour changes, then you begin to heal yourself and others. You won't want to accumulate more for yourself or play Monopoly games by buying and accumulating more. Right now there are around 83 Canadians who hold 70% of our wealth, and have more than 11 million people. That's significant because this buys you political power. And as the Nobel Economist Joseph Spitglitz explained, it's not necessarily because they worked hard and earned it but because of governmental deficiencies. But once you're healed, then you can create a more equal society, which eventually leads to more investment in governmental infrastructure, health care, social services, and social enterprise. All these things leads to reducing factors contributing to cancer on multiple levels.
A: Why don’t you like trade, how is it different from gifting?
B: I can only speak for myself and having experienced the difference between trading and giving. Buying and selling is trade. It's based on a system of scarcity. Giving and receiving is love. Love is very healing, and very different than trade. Of course, you can trade from a spirit of friendship and it can be a pleasant experience. But without a fair exchange of value... there is no connection anymore. It's a totally difference experience. As I said before, you don't trade with your family and friends. Why do this with others? Having someone cooking a meal for me compared to buying it at a store where you don't know where it comes from… is a very different experience. When you cook for someone, you care more about what you're doing. When you sell a product for the masses… you have other priorities, you care more about economic growth, reducing costs, marketing, and shareholders satisfaction.
A: This is all great if everyone is a good person, I can see people taking advantage of other's generousity and good nature through this system and keep on taking
B: Well, think of it like family. If you have a family member who keeps being a "taker" and taking advantage of it, you will have a discussion with them. You want to know what's going on. It's all about relationships. There are no 'strangers', we are all connected. Most people who take advantage of others are actually those who have the most such as the studies from Paul Piff showing the upper-class are more likely to steal candies from children. And in fact, if everyone did that and the society was more equal like in Sweden, social crime rates and those kind of selfish behaviours are reduced. People want to give more, because there isn't any stress of feeling scarcity, social status anxiety, or wanting to compete for resources.
A: I believe it's two tracks of beliefs and values... those raised to be true capitalist is about taking it all! and leaving none for their competition, hence small towns shuts down typically 4.5 years after a walmart moves in, killing all the mom and pop shops in town. how do you go talk to the CEOs of Walmart about the ethics and sharing? And what would talking accomplish? Why do you think it took a revolution for communism to be installed in Russia and even then that didn't work to create equality and sharing among people.
B: I don't have the answers. I'm not an economist. I'm not a policy maker. I'm a man with cancer fighting for his life, and trying to create ripples for others. But what I would love is to be part of a public discussion of social scientists, government policy makers, and businesses to discuss this problem. Unfortunately, this isn't happening. Our government and businesses are concerned about bandaid solutions and economic growth, which will lead to our destruction. We're all focused on "cures", instead of focusing on causes. What's the point of giving vitamins to a sick fish in polluted water? It accomplishes nothing, unless we talk to the polluter. So I absolutely agree with you. Yes, we need to talk to the CEO of Walmart.
A: How can people find you?
B: People can sign up to our website http://gifteconomy.ca I almost forgot we have one! The domain was gifted, and the web designer gifted $1000 worth of her services to build it, and our blog: http://gifteconomyinvite.blogspot.ca/
A: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
B: Have you heard of Jon Jandai? He's a TED speaker from Thailand. He said "clever people are so stressed working for 30 years to pay their mortgage, how can an uneducated man like me ever get one? but it took me 3 months to build my home. Now I have so much free time to think about what contribution I can give. There's lots of festivals in Thailand because people have so much free time." He's a funny guy with very simple philosophy.
Conscious Entrepreneur: RozeMerie Cuevas, Founder/Fashion Designer of Jacqueline Conoir and JAC by Jacqueline Conoir
Photo courtesy of Minaz Kurji at the most recent Summer Collection where a well dressed crowd browsed and enjoyed the show
A: Please tell us what stories you like our readers to know about you that other media hasn’t covered already?
R: We have been in business 28 years, designing the Jacqueline Conior and JAC brand. I travel all over the world each year to bring the latest and greatest to my customers. I LOVE what I do, and this journey has been a constant challenge, but very rewarding both professionally and personally.
A: What has been challenging?
R: We reinvented` ourselves 3 times in that 28 years because fashion is ever changing, trends must keep up with the needs and changes of the consumer.
A: As a successful business woman with a great family, what is your secret?
R: As a mother of two daughters, age 21 and 24, I found balancing time is the most crucial key. I don’t feel guilty working, but when I travel, I always save a few days just for me to relax. The ratio is about 80% work vs 20% play. Although I find it hard to turn my mind off on my days off. Another very useful tip is to bring your family into the business. My husband and I have brought our daughters from a young age to fashion shows, and events, so they grew up around the business. They are proud of the two brands and contribute daily to their success by continuing to assist in many ways now that they are young adults.
A: Where do you find your inspiration?
R: I do a lot of research by people watching, window shopping around the world. You look at how people style themselves on the street while sipping a cappicino, or see how they mix fabric and patterns in the window shops, then I add my own flare and signature to create Jacqueline Conoir and JAC by Jacqueline Conoir.
A: Where did you go last year?
R: Columbia, Miami, Asia, Italy, Paris, Los Angeles
A: Your favourite city among those?
R: Florence and Paris
A: How would you describe your designs?
R: North American cool, Italian sexy, and French Hippy chick. North American cool is edgy, Italian sexy is sophisticated, and French Hippy chick has a real feminine flair. Our main clientele is age 25-35 and age 35-45.
A: I find that most people save their “Good outfit” for a special events like a gala or holiday party, but dress very casual normally, what is your take on that?
R: Look good everyday, JUST wear it! I sometimes wear an evening gown with cowboy boots.
A: SHOCKED, to where?
R: To a dinner party that I host at my house for friends
A: So Rozemerie, a friend told me recently that European ladies due to their small closet dress very differently from North American women. Sticking to mostly black, good quality pieces, and change day to night with different jewellery, accessories, and shoes, is that true? And what do you think?
R: YES, it’s totally true. Europeans invest in their clothes and buy more expensive quality pieces, and dress up everyday. Whereas North Americans’ wardrobe is made up of casual wear for hiking or outdoor activities and very elegant black tie wear, but not too much in between. And people are afraid to wear their really nice outfits since they’re so used to wearing casual clothes all the time. The west coast is changing slowly and we are seeing a slow shift towards conscious fashion statements delivered by the fashion savvy.
A: You keep mentioning “Good Quality” clothes, what exactly is your definition of good quality clothes?
R: Invest your money into new trend, not trendy, avoid disposal garment like $20 tops from big name fashion conglomerates that you can only wear once or twice before it loses its shape or the thread start coming off. Good quality clothes are made from natural fabric like cotton, silk, rayon and will make you feel amazing and will give you more bang for your money.
A: How often shall we add to our wardrobe, and how much is appropriate to spend?
R: You can consider adding 2-3 outfits to your wardrobe each season. When I say outfit, I mean a jacket, top and bottom or a jacket with a dress.
A: I read a lot of fashion magazines, and they always promote new trends, yet there are so many articles telling us to buy classic outfits like a little black dress. What gives?
R: When shopping each season, stick to 80% classic and timeless, 20% on trend.
A: Would you recommend buying in black since everyone looks good in black?
R: No, this year the neutral is white, Charcoal is also a popular neutral and next year it will be dark brown. Not everyone looks good in black. Any elegant women will look good in good quality clothes. The fit and fabric of a garment is way more important than the colour. A lot of women get stuck in a style rut because they’re used to seeing themselves in a certain look, and when they try on a new look, they cannot be comfortable with this new version of themselves, despite the fact they look good. It is important to stay fresh in aspects of life, fashion is just one of the aspects.
A: Vancouver women are famous for running around in our yoga pants, what do you suggest is easy dressing for moms out there?
R: Gray jeans, with a cool casual T-shirt, platform shoes or kitten heel with a short-cropped jean jacket and you’re ready to go. I am a mom, and I have never spent more time in yoga pants unless I am actually practicing yoga.
A: As our society become more critical of women’s looks, a lot of people are getting plastic surgery, what are your thoughts on that?
R: That is a personal choice and I’m not here to judge. Everyone is beautiful what ever their size or shape. As long as you take care of yourself, it will show. Looking great is doing the best you can, choosing the pieces that will work best with your shape. We have always used real people as models for our fashion shows to showcase the beauty in diversity.
A: I sometimes see baby-boomer ladies dressing like a teenager, any advice there to looking young?
R: All women want to look “fresh”, not young. Fresh is a feeling like right after a facial. It’s an attitude that will carry with you throughout the day. There are many current, modern brands that will help give a fresh look, no need to go after the brands that cater to teenagers. JAC by Jacqueline Conoir is one of them.
A: A lot of wealthy Chinese ladies look up and try to emulate Kate Middleton’s style, would you say she’s a new style icon?
R: Every woman has different personalities, and fashion is the playground for you to express the different side of you. Maybe today you dress like Kate Middleton, tomorrow you dress like Kate Moss. You don’t have to dress like a classy conservative to be a good person. Use fashion to express your many personalities. We all have them.
A: Sometimes, fashion design barely covers the body, as a mom of two young ladies, what are you thoughts?
R: Fashion and Music pushes the limits, as they’re an art form. It’s personal choice what you wear. I think it’s great for entertainment, but not really for everyday situations. It’s our job as parents to guide our children’s fashion sense. To help them understand the difference between entertainment fashion and street fashion. It is then up to them to decide how they want to project their own personalities through fashion statements.
A: Why is it okay for Entertainment and not the street? Are you aware of the #SLUTWALK? Where women wear their bra and mini skirt with protest signs saying my outfit does not give you permission to rape me, shouldn’t we able to wear whatever we want anywhere?
R: It’s okay for Entertainment because it’s their freedom for expression. In the perfect world, we should able to wear whatever we want, unfortunately, it is not a perfect world and so we must always be careful of where and how we express ourselves. Wear what you want but be sure you are in a safe environment, be aware of who you are with. If you are wearing something to go clubbing, go with 20 friends.
A: What are your pet peeves?
R: Disposable clothes.
A: Your favourite accessories?
R: Shoes and scarves.
A: Any favorite shoe brands?
R: All kinds.
A: If you met the younger version of you at age 19, what life advice would you give her?
R: Always work really hard in the direction you want to go. Every challenge and obstacle has a solution and there are so many possibilities if you chose to go after them.
A: How has your feminine qualities helped you success in this mostly patriarchal business world?
R: You’ll see this a lot with top tier successful women. They negotiate different obstacles in a calm, compassionate, patient and logical manner with a 360 degree holistic approach.
A: As a Vancouverite, why are you proud of Vancouver?
R: It’s a clean, beautiful city that is well planned with gorgeous mountains and oceans.
A: Any last word to our readers?
R: Just our philosophy:
JAC LIVES FREELY, leads by example, loves life, projects success, inspires, empowers action, knows what she wants. Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think & twice as beautiful as you’d ever imagined.
164 W 5th Ave. Vancouver, BC
Photo courtesy of RozeMerie Cuevas, taken on her inspiration tours around the world. Other photos are provided by the company from their campaign spread. I found RozeMerie to be really down to earth, stylish and inspirational. It’s amazing to meet someone who’s got it together and still has fun and live her passion each day! Can’t wait to see what else is in store next.
See more pictures here