Everyone has the right to rise

2009-04-15 00:00

Last week I found Lael, my six-year-old daughter, in the driveway of our complex selling used Coke bottles, filled with water and sealed shut with geranium leaves, for R10. It was 7 am so the eight residents couldn’t get to work or university without passing her shop.

She didn’t make any sales, but she did finally get her parents’ attention.

Lael first tasted the pleasures of making money at a children’s art exhibition. She had me baking brownies late into the night, sold them for a whopping profit at her art stand the next day and then blew all her earnings on a pair of high-heel shoes. She clopped uncomfortably around the house for a few hours before plunging into despair: from rich to penniless, in one foolish purchase.

Thereafter, she vowed never to spend money again, but only to make it. She saved and saved, and she harassed us for business ideas: “How can I use this money to make more money? Maybe you can make pasta Christmas decorations and I can sell them at the market? Maybe we can bottle the chillies Dad is growing and pay for a stall? Maybe I can staple these pieces of paper into a book and we can sell it as a diary?”

She kept pushing us, proposing more ludicrous ideas at every meal — breakfast, lunch and supper.

“Look,” I finally thought, “you’re six years old. Should you not be content just to frittle your money away on pink hair clips made in China? Why are you so serious?”

That Sunday she issued her grandfather a bill for his lunch. “I didn’t charge you for your coffee and you can pay it off over two weeks,” I heard her reassuring him.

I knew then that we had to do something to control the embarrassment of her ruthless business spirit. I even thought of just squashing it. Until one night Abraham Lincoln intervened. “Everyone has the right to rise,“ he explained to me through the medium of Time magazine (February16). “The penniless beginner in the world labours for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labours on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him ... this is the prosperous system which opens the way for all — gives hope to all, and energy, and progress and improvement of condition to all.”

“Oh, but I always thought you should be content with what you have,” I replied. “I thought that trying to make money is wasteful and selfish. I thought the ideal was poverty.”

“No, poverty brings stinted living. I wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.”

“That’s a good point Mr Lincoln. So what you’re saying is that I must help Lael exercise her right to rise. I must provide the conditions she needs in order to make money. And then help her use that money to make more money.”

“That's correct. I like to call it equal chance.”

“Equal chance, the right to rise, hmmm, I might call it the South African dream.”

So the next morning, I chatted to Lael. “My girl, I’m going to help you make money. I’ll show you how to make cards — ones that you can cut, paste and stamp yourself. They’ll look nice which is important. People will actually want to buy them which is also important. And you will make a profit — some of which you can save, some of which you can spend, and some of which you can give away — which is very important.

“How much money will I make?”

“About R2 per card.”

“Why don’t we we sell them for R50 each. That way I can make more money, more quickly?”

This might take longer than I thought.

• Sarah Groves is unemployed, but has many interests, including her family, her flute, classical education, writing and courteous arguments around good meals.

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