Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Running toward peace rather than after fortune

He who runs after good fortune runs away from peace. (Africa)

Dear Zayda,

Money is very important. However, if you chase after money, it can become too important. It could become the most important thing in your life.

One of our relatives (I will call her Winsome) is an example of how someone can lose peace by running after good fortune. She once told me, “If I had a choice to be rich or to be happy, I would choose to be rich.”

Winsome was pretty and always looked about twenty years younger than her actual age. She enjoyed surrounding her self with beautiful things. She wore designer clothes, jewellery, shoes, and even T-shirts. I suspect she even wore designer underwear. Many of these items she bought on her annual trips abroad.

She loved to travel, and I think she visited every continent at least once. And she felt she needed lots of money to live the way she wanted to live. In addition, she wanted lots of leisure to do these things. She therefore had a plan to retire at fifty.

Winsome was bright and multi-talented. She studied languages, and was fluent in French and competent in Spanish. She qualified herself in library sciences before doing brilliantly in her law exams. She created desserts that would be the envy of a great chef. But she was not happy.

She earned well as an attorney, and was able to build her own house in an exclusive neighborhood. Rent from this house earned her a good income each month. She drove nothing but Mercedes Benz cars. But she was not happy.

Her parents were well off, and she wanted what they had. All of it. She had two brothers and a sister, but still she wanted the whole fortune. As an adult, she lived at home with her parents. She kept their company when they were well, and cared for them when they were ill. She therefore deserved to inherit her parents’ luxury home, and whatever else they chose to give her in return for her choosing to remain single and fully available to them. But some of the wealth was not enough for Winsome. She wanted all.

Winsome convinced her father that she was the only one who was faithful to him. The others had had differences with their father, who saw himself as a patriarch whose word was law. Winsome chose to remain under his thumb even as an adult, where her siblings had defied him at different stages in their lives. They had chosen careers of which their father disapproved; they had married persons of whom their father disapproved. They had not necessarily followed his advice on how to raise their children. They had had open quarrels with him when he tried to treat them as children even though they were middle-aged at the time. Winsome held her tongue, gave up her independence, and focused on the fortune.

Winsome’s father died and left all his wealth to his wife, on condition that on her death, she would pass on the fortune to Winsome only. Two of the siblings accepted the father’s wishes, even if they could not agree with his decision to favor one child over the others. The other sibling (I will call him George) saw how Winsome had played her game, and decided to outplay her.

After her father’s death, Winsome and her mother became like twins. They went everywhere together, wore each other’s clothes, and pooled their funds in joint accounts. Winsome could almost relax in her hunt for the complete fortune.

Then a roadblock developed. Winsome fell in love and her mother disliked the person so much that she would not allow him beyond her gate. This provided George with a chance to come between Winsome and their mother, and to put in his bid for the complete fortune.

George listened well to the mother’s complaints about Winsome, and he was happy to take Winsome's place as the mother’s constant companion. He helped his mother to remove Winsome’s name from most of her properties and from several of her bank accounts.

Nothing and no one, not even the man she loved, could comfort Winsome when she saw the wealth disappearing. She said she would prefer to die rather than live without all that her father intended her to have. She could not see life without the trips across the world and the expensive belongings.

She became an example of they way someone can die of a broken heart. She still looked young and beautiful when she died of a disease that caused her organs to stop working. Let us hope she has found peace in the next world where material possessions do not matter.

Just look at the trees in spring, Zayda, and you will know we live in a universe of abundance. We can follow nature by giving of ourselves, and opening up ourselves to receive. We can try to be at peace with ourselves so we attract the best to us.

We can decide if we want to risk our happiness by chasing after wealth. We know we are on the wrong track if we find ourselves competing, trying to deprive others so we have everything, or wanting to hoard for fear the wealth will run away.

I do believe we can have it all, if that all means most of all being happy. What do you think?


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at