“Free” vs. Rewilding
Now that I’ve decided to make my living from teaching rewilding skills, I find myself in a conundrum. How much money do I charge for my classes? Can you really put a price on information that everyone needs in order to save the planet and live a good life? As it turns out I have found that, yes, you can.
A friend of mine told me a story that sums up the psychology of living in a capitalist society. He put out an exercise machine in his front yard with a sign on it that said, “FREE”. It sat in his front yard for two weeks. No one took it. Then he got an idea. He changed the sign from “FREE” to “$25”. Someone stole it from his yard within the next couple hours.
I had a similar story to the one above. I bought a shitty lemon of a motor home. I lived out of it for a year. I didn’t know how to get rid of it. I put it on craigslist for free. No one took it. I tried a few more times. Finally I put a price tag on it for $250 and 8 people had e-mailed me within the hour.
We live in a capitalist society. Everything costs money, even water. These stories show how our psyches work in this culture; if something has a “FREE” label smacked on it, people think the item has no worth. No one wants something that has no worth, unless it has sentimental value. As soon as you put a price on something, all of a sudden people perceive it as having worth.
Putting a price on my book and my workshops has always felt difficult for me. How can I put a price on thoughts? My ability to teach? How can I put a price on information that needs to get out into the world in order to save the future generations?!? Ironically, I want to believe that having my book for free or running rewild camps for free will attract more people to them, but in reality that doesn’t mirror the psyches of people in a capitalist culture. If I put a price on it, especially a high price, I know more people would come. You see, it has to have a price, to have worth.
Charging money also forms a bond of commitment. Once someone has paid money for something like a class, if they don’t go, they lose the money they spent. It encourages people to follow through with decisions. They have made an investment in what you have to offer.
When people have to work for something, it has more value to them. I remember saving up $1,000 at 16 years old, as a runaway, simply so that I could go to the teen version of the Tracker School in New Jersey. I couch surfed while working at a natural food store for 8 months. I couldn’t afford a plane ticket so I took the Greyhound bus. A sleepless three day trip across the continent. I remember one kid at the camp complaining about it. He would rather have sat at home playing video games but his parents paid for, and made him go to the camp. I wanted to tear his eyes out. The camp felt worth every penny to me. Every hour slaved away. I loved every minute of it.
I also have to say I get really annoyed at people who demand free things. In my experience these people generally come from a privileged background. They have had everything handed to them and don’t understand that all life comes at an exchange. Even in a gift economy (which those people always espouse but never enact) people constantly give away their things and get other things in return.
In the end, I see more problems coming from running “free” programs. After an analysis I find myself asking, “How high of a price seems too high?” Of course, I run a non-profit so I have limits, and I will always run Rewild Camp for “free” (suggested donation $5-20).