What is your number?

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Gofaone Nina Tladi

We base a lot of our perceptions about people on a number of things:  attractiveness, family ties and even their “number.”

We all have a number, the deep dark secret we carry around. This is the number that determines how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. This number categorises us before our character or intellect. It is our faction. The amount of money that we earn is shroud in secrecy and most companies are extremely strict about salary confidentiality. I often look around in traffic at the tons of cars cocooning me and I wonder about the number that everyone has.

On of my favourite movies is “Divergent”.In both the “Divergent” book and film trilogies, factions are societal divisions that classify citizens based on their aptitudes and values. The factions are Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the kind), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), and Candour (the honest). In the movie there is the “Choosing Ceremony” where those who have come of age choose their faction. Most decide to choose their faction of birth and those who exhibit traits of all the factions are known as divergent. The faction-less are those who do not belong to any particular group. One of my greatest take aways from this film is that the labels we place on people are not true. They are just made up and we often miss out on great people based on the assumptions we make of them based on their number.

In our society we have these labels that govern how we interact in respect of income brackets. For example,  there are the poor,the middle class and the rich. Let us break down these “factions” further and some of the perceptions that we have of these people based on their number.

The poor.

The poor have often been down trodden, perceived as lazy and have been victim to a lot of shaming in the form of “We all have the same 24hr hours in a day” etc. Poverty is not a lack of character, but a lack of cash, according to Rutger Bregman in his Ted Talk on the matter. In an opinion piece by Khaya Dlanga, he expresses concern at the assumption that all poor people are lazy which he which he contrasts against the very busy day of housekeepers who wake up extremely early to care for other people’s homes and children at the expense of their own. I believe in helping the poor and programmes such as “Nyeletso lehuma” are doing their part. It truly is important to help those who have been previously disadvantaged. There is a lot of shame often allotted to people who do not have money. There is a lady who sells magwinya and other things by my office. While she could be classified as poor based on the fact that she may or may not have had a formal education, financially she is far ahead of me in my air-conditioned office. 

The middle class.

“I itch for the day we all realise that there is no middle class, but an imaginary gap filled by people deep in debt trying to prove that they are not poor.” This tweet by Scheaffer Okore caused a huge ripple in the twitter streets as many people shared this view. I wondered what this categorization could be and many of my followers described this as the executive with the nice car and children attending the best  private schools. Another one of my followers raised a case that the middle class also are the most susceptible to lifestyle creep as they often spend the most amounts of money to look the part. I am of the view that it is often this group of people who are greatly deceived as we may look the part, but have the most destructive financial habits. Pride kicks in and we reject advice if it does not come in a manner we deem “qualified to give advice about money.”

The Rich.

In high school I had a rich friend named Megan. As she liked to phrase it, her dad was rich and she happened to live in his shadow. I did not realise she was rich until I went to her house one day and started spending time with her and her family. There is an innate perception to think that rich people are greedy, self-centered and even bad people. However, I have come to realise that I should never hate the rich if I want to be them. Some of the principles I learnt about money, I was taught by Megan’s father. It is important to learn from those who have had success in areas we struggle in and so many of my personal finance books are written by people who have been on this journey and found success. There is also a certain privilege that accompanies this group of people. A quote I love regarding privilege is that it can blind, hence the belief that the rich are self absorbed.

These categories affect how we interact and often are hindrance from building strong relationships. One of my favourite activities is to people watch. I people watch at the mall, in restaurants and in traffic. As I people watch while sitting in traffic everyday, the thing that comforts me is that fact that we have more in common than the one thing that seemingly separates us. We are all on our way to work! It is important to act your wage, but  it is vital to not allow your number to define you. On this journey, we will keep moving from one faction to the next. There will always be someone who has more and we could be defensive or jealous. There will always be someone who has less than us and we must be respectful and humble in our progress. It truly is not the amount of money we earn but how we manage what we have, and most important,  to not be defined by this number. It could change at any time.

PS: You don’t have to be a hero, you just have to be what most people aren’t, consistent.