A friend and I had gone to pick up our respective kids from a school function the other day. Traffic was particularly bad, and what should have been a one hour drive stretched into nearly three. We were exhausted by the time we got home, and all I wanted to do was to have a cold bath and stumble into bed.
“How much?”, I asked the cab driver, as we tumbled out.
“300 rupees”, he informed me.
“Do you have change for 500?”, I asked proffering a note of that denomination.
He checked in his wallet before informing me he did not. I looked at my friend, but she didn’t have. We pooled our money together, and found we had 280 rupees between us.
“Let’s give him that”, my friend suggested, but I overruled her.
“That’s not fair. He’s earned the money, how can we shortchange him?”
“But he is the one who should have change”, she insisted.
“He should. But he could as well expect us to have it”, I countered.
“Are you sure you don’t have change for 500”, I asked him. “Check again, because we don’t have enough money.”
“I don’t have change”, he insisted. “You are the first people I picked up today. I don’t carry so much money around with me all the time.”
It was leading to an impasse, and since I was reluctant to pay him less than his due, there was only one way out of the situation. I decided to trust him!
I held out the 500 rupee note. “Here, take this”, I said. “When you get change, give it back to me.”
“But..”, he began, but I cut him short. “I’m leaving for office now, but if you leave the change with the guard, he’ll give it to me.” I gave him my apartment number and got out.
“Are you mad?” My friend pounced on me the moment he was out of earshot. “You know you will never see that 200 rupees, don’t you?”
“I’m sure he’ll pay me back”, I replied. “By nature, human beings are honest. He knows I trust him, and will repay the trust.”
“In your idealistic world, maybe. But things don’t work in quite that manner in the real world”, she informed me.
“Maybe”, I shrugged. “I am sure he will pay me back. But even if he doesn’t, the money means more to him than to me.” Which was true. The money would have got me one and a half Mc Donalds Happy Meals; he would have had a sumptuous dinner for eight days on the sum.
“If you are feeling so benevolent, why don’t you donate the money to a charity?”, she asked, but I refused to rise to the bait.
“I choose to trust him. There is nothing else to it.”
For me, that was all there was to it. I believe in the intrinsic honesty of people, and was willing to risk a sum that I was prepared to lose. What would have been harder to lose was my faith in human nature.
What if he doesn’t return the money, I asked myself. Would I then lose faith in human beings?
No, I told myself. Even if he didn’t return the money, I should not lose faith in the entire race- one individual doesn’t represent the entire race, does he?
Five minutes later, when I came out of the building, after dropping my son off at Daycare, I saw the cab driver waiting for me with the correct change. Our eyes met for an instant, but that was enough to convey everything. The man hadn’t even thought about betraying my trust, because I had trusted him even though there was every reason for me not to.
I got my money back, but what came with it was far more precious- a vindication of my belief in the inherent goodness of people. And that was worth risking far more than the one and a half Happy Meals that I did risk for it.