Have Faith But Don’t Be Foolish… And For God’s Sake, Tie Up Your Camel
While I’d love to have an unflappable trust in humanity, the thousands of lawsuits I’ve been a party to attest to the reality that it’s easy for people to lose their way, and so faith should never be used in lieu of common sense.
That line bears repeating: faith should never be used in lieu of common sense.
This brings me to one of my all-time favorite expressions – it’s an ancient Persian proverb, actually – that the attorney in me, and the humanist in me, loves equally:
Trust in God, but tie up your camel.
There are many variations of the story to which this is the existential punch line, but I have my own version that I like to tell:
There were once two Bedouins making their way on camelback through the desert to a local village to buy supplies. Both take their faith very seriously, but each has a slightly different perspective on what God wants people to do as they make their way through life.
The first argues, “What God wants you to do is to defer to Him and let Him take care of you.”
The second responds by saying, “No, that’s not what God wants you to do; God wants you to take care of yourself, as He stands up for those who stand up for themselves.”
The argument continues all the way to the village, where they finally arrive outside the marketplace. As they dismount from their camels, the second man immediately ties his ride up while the first man allows his camel to stand freely.
The first man says, “See, my brother, that’s what I’m talking about. You have no real faith in God, and so you feel the need to secure your camel. I trust that God will look after mine, and I have faith that when I return from the market, all will be as I left it.”
To this the second man replies, “Well, my brother, I wish that were the case, but to me the only way to be sure my camel will be here when I return is to take matters into my own hands. Not only does God approve, but it is what He wants me to do.”
The argument continues for a while longer, and then this being ancient times, the two decide to take their argument to the nearest wise man, who of course resides in a cave on a nearby mountain top because that’s where any sage worth his or her mettle would live.
The wise man welcomes them in, and immediately the two launch into their disagreement. The first says, “Wise man, my friend here believes that God protects those who protects themselves and therefore he ties up his camel. I feel that I am more faithful than he, and so I know that God will take care of me, which makes tying up a camel a futile act.”
The wise man strokes his long beard, pondering for a few moments. Finally he says, “My sons, you must trust in God… (he pauses dramatically as wise men often do)… AND tie up your camel.”
The moral of the story is faith is wonderful, but it is your divine right AND directive to take care of yourself. And while the source of this proverb is the Qur’an, you can find similar expressions about the importance of self-reliance everywhere from Greek fables to the Bible and even to Benjamin Franklin.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have faith in your fellow man or woman — belief in the good in others and the assumption that we all follow a similar moral code is what being a part of humanity is all about.
That said, faith is never a substitute for common sense. It’s nice to think you can take people at their word, but when it comes to working with others, you ALWAYS need a contract, for example, and I’d say especially if your professional relationship is with family or close friends.
Because in the end…
You alone are responsible for your life.
You are in charge of safeguarding that which you deem valuable.
Belief in God, a higher power, or simply in the value of humanity if Theism isn’t your thing — it’s all good.
And when all else fails, well, that’s why God invented lawyers.
I’m always happy to help those who feel they can’t help themselves, forget to tie up their camels, and/or have misplaced their faith, because it keeps me working and doing my best to help my fellow man and woman.
Can I get an Amen?