25 April, 2001

Fable of the Wealthy Beggar

. . . One day a man learned he was suddenly wealthy and decided to share his unexpected wealth with his friends. Before being generous to his friends, the man decided he would first see how generous they were to him. So he called on them, begging for money.
. . . "I need every dime I can lay my hands on," he told his friends. "Please lend me what you can now and get me more soon. I assure you, you'll get back all you lend me and much more besides. But right now I need to get my hands on every nickel, every penny you can lend me."
. . . "Why do you need the money?" people asked. "Why are you so desperate? Are you in trouble?" To these questions, the man said little. "Give me what you are able," he said. "I can give you no other assurances except to say you will get back everything you give and much more besides."
. . . At first people were generous, giving him what they could out of their wallets and purses. Some wrote him checks on the spot. All promised they would look at their finances and give him more, as soon as they knew how much more they could afford to lend. And the man counted himself blessed.
. . . But then people started talking among themselves, asking each other about the man, wondering what terrible predicament had befallen him. Many offered guesses and some guesses were unkind. Rumors passed among his friends, from mouth to ear and from ear to mouth. What was spoken was heard and what was heard was spoken.
. . . When the man called again on his friends, many refused to lend him more. "We have already given you enough," they said. "Without better assurances, how can you expect us to be generous?"
. . . The man left his suspicious friends with empty hands and a heavy heart. True, they had given something when he first asked. He knew he should be thankful for that generosity but he wasn't. He was disappointed they didn't know him better. If they had, they would have trusted him more.
. . . Other friends trusted him too much. They gave him everything they could spare and more, to the point of foolishness. "We can borrow money on our credit cards. We can take out a second mortgage on our house. We can borrow against our retirement. We can ask our friends for loans. What do you need us to do?"
. . . He left these friends, too, with a heavy heart. They didn't know him so well, he thought, to be so generous. How, he wondered, had such foolish people accumulated any wealth at all? He, in their shoes, would not have been so ready to give up so much. He knew he should be thankful for their generosity but he wasn't. He was disappointed they didn't know him better. If they had, they would have trusted him less.
. . . Some of his friends, of course, were neither suspicious nor foolish. Their trust went as far as their knowledge. Their generosity was prudent.
The man left these friends, too, with a heavy heart. He didn't feel they should have trusted him more. He didn't feel they should have trusted him less. But he wished they knew him better.
. . . So the man went to all his friends and opened his heart. He repented of having put their friendship to the test. "I am a poor friend," he told them. "Please accept your money back and, if you will, enjoy a share of my sudden wealth, even though I have asked for help when none was needed and so have marred our friendship."
. . . And so the man continued to have many friends, who quickly forgave him his deception and celebrated their good fortune. Some friends continued to be suspicious. Some friends continued to be foolish. But all got to know him better, for he had taught his heart to open..

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