Taking Money Too Seriously

Over a month ago I took an okada (commercial motorcycle) from my street to work (something I don’t particularly recommend, but sometimes the need for speed appears to trump even consideration of safety). The fare was 100 naira, but I found on alighting that the lowest denomination on me was 1000 naira, and my rider had no change. He’d taken me a few times before, however, and we knew each other, so he insisted I walk away. “You can always pay later!”

I haven’t seen him since.

And he’s not the only one. Another time, the store-owner at the local market-stall where I buy my toiletries (I was replacing my shaving blades, I think) pleasantly surprised me with a 20% discount that I didn’t even request.

It happens even at work. Patients offer money, credit, even foodstuff – one woman who was also a trader once dropped a big black polythene bag (filled with tomatoes, onion and pepper at a time when those commodities were scarce) and dashed off before I could even thank her.

What’s amazing about all this is none of them was well off by any material standards. I’m never comfortable accepting them, but then I always remember a patient who once asked, “Doctor, do you think I’m too poor to give to you?

I found that very humbling.

I’m not trying to romanticise poverty. I’m simply struck by how those less well off seem more open to give than those who do. And I remember a line from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s brilliant book, The Black Swan: “We all become stingy and calculating when our wealth grows and we start taking money seriously.”

Does that worry you?


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