Having Few Wants And Still Offering A Lot

The writer William Zinsser once wrote an article called “The News From Timbuktu” about his trip to the Malian city to witness camel caravans carrying salt across the Sahara. He was thrilled by the sight of forty camels proceeding in unison over the vast desert, but it was another incident from the trip that impacted him the most.

He recounts the incident in his book On Writing Well, and summarises it’s impact beautifully:

“The real climax of my story was not finding the salt caravan; it was finding the timeless hospitality of the people who live in the Sahara. Not many moments in my life have matched the one when a family of nomads with almost no possessions offered to share their dinner. Nor could any other moment distill more vividly what I had come to the desert to find… the nobility of living on the edge.”

The Stoic connotations here are clear and inspiring.

As Epictetus believed, not needing wealth and possessions is more valuable than wealth itself is:

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.

Epictetus, Golden Sayings and Fragments

And as William B Irvine says in A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, a Stoic should always be looking to help others:

“To fulfill my social duty—to do my duty to my kind—I must feel a concern for all mankind. I must remember that we humans were created for one another, that we were born, says Marcus [Aurelius], to work together the way our hands or eyelids do. Therefore, in all I do, I must have as my goal ‘the service and harmony of all.’ More precisely, ‘I am bound to do good to my fellow-creatures and bear with them.’”

What could embody these two themes better than a family that owns basically nothing offering a complete stranger their own dinner?