Friday, November 23, 2007

Charitable or Foolish?

Standing on the railway platform my friend noticed a coolie carrying bags for a European. The going rate for such labor is about $1, but the coolie asked for $10. The visitor didn’t have the change in the local currency so he gave him the equivalent of $12 and told him “keep the change.”

As the coolie walked away he said to his friend, “God blessed me with a fool early today.” My friend, overhearing the remark, rebuked him and told him he should be grateful for other people’s generosity and not make fun of them. The coolie sneered at my friend and went his way.

Last week my friend and I took a cycle rickshaw to have supper. My colleague, who is a very compassionate fellow, ordered for our driver “take out” so he could eat as well. When the rickshaw walla took us to our final destination we paid him more than a fair fare. Instead of being grateful, he asked for more with an attitude that somehow we had insulted him by offering him less. My friend sighed and said, “Sometimes guys like that make me not want to be generous.”

There is always a tension between the rich and poor, generosity and ungratefulness. The European hardly will miss being overcharged twelve times the rate. The coolie, whose lot in life is one of carrying other people’s bags, no doubt can use the extra money. However, if a foreigner thinks for a minute that his generosity will be seen as an act of charitable kindness, they are sadly mistaken. Not all poor people see the rich as fools in which to manipulate for as much as they can get out of them, but the truth is there are more with the attitude of the coolie and the rickshaw driver than we imagine. My take on tipping in a developing country is to learn the rules of the game and behave from those cultural rules. Its okay to be generous, but try to do it within reason of the local economy. People will respect you if you are kind and charitable, but they have a disdain for rich fools.

Having just completed Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the twelve lepers who were healed by Jesus. Only one of them returned to thank Him. The lesson of the coolie and the leper is a reminder that the motive of the giver should always be with honest compassion and the receiver would do well to have enough integrity and gratefulness to say thanks.