Greed Will Poison Your Authentic Life

Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth, and whatever you feed it, is never enough

janwillem van de wetering

Our ford was the connector of the villages across the river.

It was the inevitable gateway to both commerce and romance of all sorts. Besides the deals and kisses sealed around the ford, it was also our favourite scene to witness exciting events throughout the year.

In most seasons, the water levels would be low. Everyone waded across the stony riverbed with little struggle. Men folded up their trousers and pushed the bicycles across, shoes strapped on the saddle. Women rolled up their dresses knee-high and crossed with their shoes tucked on top of their baskets. Boys like myself, walked across bare bottomed with our elastic shorts worn in our heads like a toque blanche. For the sake of my fellow village mates, that is a chef’s hat in kitchen language.

But the real show arrived with the floods.

The river raged with fury. The banks swelled and covered the stones that served as our public bathroom. The reeds drowned, and the palms leaned downstream in obedience to the mighty flow. The roar of the waters became loud enough to be heard from distant homesteads. With the harshness of the waterway beyond tolerance, aquatic animals left and sought peace in farms. That is how hippos, crocs and pythons ended up in our homestead.

The life between the villages got severely disrupted. Crossing became difficult for people and animals. For us boys, we still had to get across to graze cows. To make it easier, we removed all our clothes and firmly tied them with a rubber band on top of our heads like a turban. The big boys swam across the muddy current to show their might. While we the little ones forcefully whipped cows into the river. And as soon as the animals jumped in, we firmly held on their tails and got dragged across, reaching the other side shaken in horror.

Adults too had a big problem crossing.

First, everyone, men and women, had to strip bare naked unlike in the dry season. There were no two ways about it. Because swimming in clothes is a sure recipe for drowning. And seeing grown people publicly undress is why we hang around the ford when the river was flooded. It was the only time to watch adult pornography in the village without being severely punished.

There was also the difficulty of getting luggage and bicycles across. One had to be tall and robust, to hoist the bike overhead, while tiptoeing naked and fast across the raging river. Navigation and dynamics skills mattered. Calculation of speed and angles of the crossing had to be meticulous. Else the river would sweep you fast beyond the ford, never to be seen again.

Some non-swimmers still had to cross for one reason or another. To solve their problem, there was a cartel of a few select men, who offered their service at a fee. They were a special breed of people: thin, tall, fast swimmers and avid users of alcohol and herbal stimulants. Amongst them, was the best of the crop nicknamed Gataru, which means “a small boat” in my local language. He was as good as a modern-day lifeguard.

The guy was a big scene to watch do his thing.

He was meticulous in removing and folding his clothes, and scientific in gauging the weight of the wares to hoist. He planned his task with patience, keenly assessing the current of the roaring river. Then he would pocket his pay (just in case the customer drowned) and pick the entry spot. And suddenly, jump in with fast, sharp, well-calculated strokes. Within no time, he would land on the other bank, and wait for the next customer.

There would be all sorts of stuff for him to deliver across, mostly bicycles, food and fuel. There would also be “passengers” of all kinds. Some were cowardly men who never bothered to learn how to swim. Others were women who could not withstand the force of the raging waters. Gataru would take non-swimmers on their heels with a firm grip on their wrists, fast tiptoeing and paddling with his free hand.

Before commencing the trip, there was verbal contracting. One had to follow strict orders. Not to hold him in any way, and to remain courageous. That is, not to scream or shout. But one thing that he never said was that if you broke the rules and the whole mission aborted, he would release your wrist and swim his way to safety. You would be left drowning on your own. That was a silent clause in the conversation—albeit known to all.

One of his best-paying customers was an affluent couple.

The middle-aged lovebirds had migrated to the village from town. Their romance set a new standard being the only couple that walked together in addition to displaying affection in public. Every other day, they crossed the river in the morning and returned in the evening, drunk. The classy couple had to travel far to drink bottled beer, unlike our men and women who survived on handcrafted local brew.

In one of the wettest seasons, they had enough of a rainy quarantine. They decided to cross the river at a time when no one would dare. Both husband and wife could not swim, so Gataru had to come into play. Despite his expertise and love for cash, he declined to take them across. After hours of pleading, he reluctantly agreed to help them. That was after he was offered a handsome fee to do it.

In addition to the hefty fees he charged that day, he also got additional “excess baggage fee” and a “risk allowance”. The lady was unlike other skinny women in the village. She was curvaceous and of unusual weight. As such, he had to risk his life dragging her extraordinary weight across the hostile river, and therefore, needed exclusive compensation.

That day, his experience failed him.

The villagers waited anxiously to see him pull off this historic feat. Clever husband offered to be the last. After thorough preparation, Gataru whisked the lady by the wrist, hit the waters and started to drag her, fast paddling with his other arm. The fastest that anyone had ever done in the history of the village. Within no time, the duo was in the middle of the river. And then, the weighty lady panicked. She grabbed him, wrapping her arms around his neck, screaming for help. Gataru tried to save the situation, but there was no chance. The gods of the river had been agitated.

Suddenly, he realised he had to evoke the silent clause and save himself or stick to drown with his passenger. Being a charcoal burner with muscular arms and a ripped abdomen, he wrestled himself free and swiftly swam to safety. The villagers yelled and ran fast along the banks in a bid to save the lady. After several metres of dragging and choking in crashing waves, she was somehow spared by the gods. She was swept to a downstream section with reeds upon which she hung, and finally rescued by the panicky villagers.

That was a sad and historic day. The desperate screams and wails had never been any louder in the village. The romantic couple returned to their home sadly sober but happy to be alive. Gataru made a daredevil act by taking an unusual passenger in the worst of the seasons. Owing to his greed, he made his mark by charging fees that no one had ever earned before. But most of all, it was the last day of his trade. He never, ever, showed up at the ford again.  

Greed is double-sided.

Greed is the excessive and insatiable desire for wealth or possessions beyond what is needed. It is a destructive force that surpasses reason, judgment, perspective, and any other apparent danger it poses to self and others. Greed at its minimum is an animalistic trait that requires us to gather food, water and shelter for our basic survival. However, capitalism has extended it to become self-preservation at the expense of others.

The value of its necessity for survival, economic growth and human progress has never been in question. However, uncontrolled greed has caused immense suffering at both individual and society levels. Societies that disapprove a certain level of greed risk being left behind in development, while the ones that do not limit it develop at the expense of many others. It is therefore correct to say that unrestrained greed is damaging to a society and equally, unbridled condemnation of greed is harmful to a nation. There is no doubt that greed must be allowed and leashed in every community.

All societies traditionally reviled greed.

Our African culture, and by extension, all human societies, have always existed in an environment of equality and fairness. This was our way before the destruction of our values by westerners. Remember, colonisation was a conquest by Europeans to satisfy their greed for resources, prestige, and political power. It was a planned infiltration and subversion of African societal order with religious doctrine and military might. It gained allies and proxies and co-opted the conquered kings and chiefs to further western exploits. Freedom fighting in Africa was, therefore, a push back to this greedy pursuit.

Interestingly, for hundreds of years, Christianity kept a good check on this capitalistic cannibalism. All changed in the 1700s when Bernard Mandeville, a Dutch medical doctor, published his social and economic ideas in The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Public Benefits. In this literary work, Mandeville challenged some of the most time-honoured and sacred ideas of European philosophy and religion concerning social morality and religious ethics.

By likening human society to a hive of bees, he entrenched the thinking that self-interest is the key to civilisation. That great empires can only be built through wealth and prosperity of man’s self-interest acquisitions. According to him, evil and vice were the agents of human betterment, implying that immorality was essential to humankind’s progress. No wonder when colonisation of our land took place between the 1700s and 1900s, the zeal of forced occupation, racial oppression and economic looting was lit with jet fuel.

Our freedom has done little to dull the greed of our colonisers.

The people left, but the system has been thriving. African politics, religion, trade, education, and even romance epitomise extremities of greed. Take, for example, our entrepreneurship. I, have been the perfect example of an African entrepreneur and perpetrator of a greedy lifestyle. To be financially secure, I ran tens of enterprises that have made me spend days and nights away from home, chasing the next deal.  I used to start something new now and then, to tap into every lucrative opportunity I heard of. Most likely, after seeing someone else succeed. But then, I would drop it off within no time. Not because it was untenable, but because it did not make money as fast.

But I would not be the perfect example of the greed in the society. We are surrounded by very voracious people who have no clue that they are. I am not talking about the politician who converted our children’s playground to be his wife’s palace. Or the public servant who collects a bribe to offer a constitutional service. Neither is it about the brother or sister who stole your rightful share of the family inheritance.

This is about the young and older men who spend sleepless nights placing soccer bets on their phones. The thousands of learned ones recruiting and joining Ponzi (pyramid) schemes to sell fake products that cannot earn space in supermarket shelves. Others who spend days and nights in makeshift churches shouting to the heavens and giving the little they have to conniving preachers. So that they can become rich with little effort. Every one of us is gullible and caught up in this terrible vice.

We have only ourselves to blame.

Decades of self-rule and public investment have cemented the greed system in our society. Millions of educated people continue to perpetuate it through third-rate trade that should only be the preserve of the unschooled. We graduate with enviable degrees and end up running chains of stores that illegally import bootleg merchandise. Once some wealth is built in these mediocre and shady trades, we become tenderpreneurs. A fancy term for shameless and idiotic looting of public resources. Which undermines the development of our economies, and confines millions of our people to misery. In the end, it is crowned with running for political office and making laws for the land. That becomes a life famously lived.

Our post-colonial Christianity is shaped by prosperity gospel. A popular, materialistic, and exploitative indoctrination endorsed by the political and economic class. This gospel archetype cleverly associates poverty with sin and lack of God’s favour due to weak faith. Especially failure to tithe. The religious fallacy fearfully exploits and impoverishes the very people it seeks to serve, while enriching its perpetrators. It feeds into the culture of greed in our society, thereby tapping into the capitalist economic global system that stemmed from colonisation. It is a perfect symbol of African neo-colonisation. It is a covert scheme to promote individual success while silently perpetuating economic injustice and social marginalisation in broad daylight.

Greed is our glorified anomaly.

It is noteworthy to understand that at the individual level, greed arises from the psychological effects of adverse childhood experiences such as poor parental care, negligence and extreme poverty. In later life, feelings of anxiety and vulnerability coupled with low self-esteem, lead the person to fixate on a substitute for the love and security lacked in childhood. The pursuit to fill this void distracts the individual from noticing negative feelings. Accumulation provides much-needed comfort and reassurance.

People consumed by greed have an envious and a very self-centred mindset. They lack empathy and respect for social, economic, and moral boundaries. Manipulation, oppression and harming other people is the way to satisfy their egos. Their lust for money, property, sex, power, and many other trappings is insatiable. This exhaustive desire leaves them unable to get contentment and denies them a happy and fulfilling life.

Protect yourself from the effects of excessive greed.

Greed results in adverse psychological conditions like stress, anxiety, depression and despair. It is also related to antisocial and criminal behaviours such as gambling, hoarding, money laundering, get-rich-quick schemes, and theft. It is the driving force behind deforestation, corruption, pollution, poverty and many other social problems like wars, crime, drugs, human trafficking and racial discrimination. By overriding reason, compassion and love, greed destroys family and community ties and therefore, undermines the bonds and values upon which a society is built.

We all want to have the best for ourselves and our loved ones, and this is perfectly okay. But this is not a reason whatsoever to cause harm to humanity and the planet. Greed does not only harm the victims but deals more damage to the perpetrator and their descendants. If you doubt this, look around, and see the trail of destruction left behind by its fallen masters. Their graves must be a very uncomfortable place.

Wealth and fame will be forever elusive.

Remember the words of Arthur Schopenhauer. “Wealth is like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become; and the same is true of fame.”

Be modest with your wealth and fame desires. And strive to acquire them with plenty of love and compassion.

I See You Love Village Stories!

Enter your email address to subscribe.

Published by Kariuki Mugo

I live cherishing the outdoors, especially green, rugged and watery spaces, but still enjoy the city life. I dedicate in and cherish a family system that provides the foundation for nurturing strong, loving relationships. I trust in thriving communities that provide a better life for everyone, and I am highly committed to creating knowledge. I am a husband, a father, a friend, a development worker, and a teacher to many!

3 thoughts on “Greed Will Poison Your Authentic Life”

  1. Moks says:

    Another motivational piece. Thanks bro.

  2. Sammy says:

    The need for more…. Fear is a huge catalyst for greed. The fear of being poor or being diminished. We need more to compeat with our friends and add to our selfworth…. I like your analysis of greed…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *