A while back I was sitting with my wife outside a cafe in Italy, and a young woman started walking around the tables, leaving a small toy on each, along with a short note. The note explained that she was a single mother of two small daughters, and she was selling these little trinkets to help keep them fed and clothed.
One of my top personal values is compassion (along with connection and contribution) so you may be surprised to discover that I rarely buy from such sellers. It’s not that I don’t feel for them, or that I resent their attempt at enterprise – I just feel that they could find better ways to add real value to the world, and get better paid for it. And buying something I don’t need will only encourage a reliance on charity rather than a fair exchange of value.
As the woman passed back around the tables, collecting up her wares, several of the customers handed her a few coins and kept the toy. There didn’t seem to be any conversation around price, so presumably each paid whatever it was worth to them.
Then one well-dressed middle-aged woman sitting quite close to us handed over some money and, as the vendor thanked her, the lady picked up the toy and handed it back with a beneficent smile: “Keep it, dear, keep it!” she said with a wave of her hand, “you can sell it to someone else.”
And with that single grandiose gesture, motivated by benevolence though it was, she turned an independent business-person into a beggar.
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