Money and Perception

“One day, Yahya was out riding with the caliph Harun Al-Rashid. A man appeared before the caliph and said to him, “My mule is dead.”

Upon hearing this, the caliph commanded that the poor man be given five hundred dirhams. But Yahya signaled the caliph to dismount, and then took him aside.

“Father!” said Harun. “You made a sign to me about something I do not understand.” Yahya said in response, “A caliph should never lower himself to mention so small a sum of money, even as a gift. When it is necessary to give, it is better to give five thousand, or ten thousand.

Harun said to him, “So what should I have done in this situation?” Yahya said, “Simply offer to get him a new mule.””

— The Wisdom And Generosity Of Yahya Ibn Khalid (translation by Quintus Curtius)

The value of money is different for each of us. This is why a gift of money is often met with ingratitude: it is rare for our perception of value to match that of the others.

The monetary largesse of one man may resemble the avarice of another; and even if both parties are satisfied with the gift, the judgment of those who witness it is always up for grabs.

More sensible, then, is to find out what the other person desires, and, being within our possibility, to offer it.

No more, no less; the art of generosity is an art demanding of precision.

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