I was in a bus heading to God knows where when this man approached the bus, wearing a ripped and dirty jeans, with a white shirt that now has a brown hue telling us his predicament unprompted. “My wife is sick and she is at the hospital, I was told to go get her original honey for use and I don’t have any money on me, please help me. I don’t normally do this” he begged. I assume in some other places that a story like that would definitely generate a lot of sympathy and people will start emptying their pockets to him but that is not the case for our Ogbeni. Maybe it is because the country hard or because Lagos is a low trust city, most people looked away, the bus driver snapped at him “you better go and work”. Bus drivers and conductors often know these people and they are the ones who let unsuspecting passengers know that they come and tell the same story every day to different people. I agree with Christina Reddy when she said that “people learn their action, feeling, attitude and their behaviour by observing others being reinforced or punished and they will imitate that behaviour therefore, street begging as a behaviour is learned by human beings as they see the positive response from others supplying the beggars with alms” but the debate whether to give to beggars or not is for this article.
However, as I pondered whether Ogbeni was lying or saying the truth, pitying him if he was genuine, I thought about begging and some business lessons that can be learned:
1. Partial Reinforcement: There is a psychological concept that has been found to encourage beggars which is called the schedule of reinforcement where they get either partial reinforcement when someone gives to them after a couple of rejections or continuous reinforcement when they get alms consistently. I bet that a beggar doesn’t get alms every time they ask but they keep on because they know that someone is going to respond to them after a while. For many people asking for favours of any kind can prove uncomfortable but you are not a street beggar and even a street beggar is not afraid of rejection. Next time you are about to quit because of rejection, remember the one time someone came through for you when you least expected.
2. Stories: Adrif Billah and Mohammad Manjur Alam said in a paper about street begging in Bangladesh that street beggars use various begging strategies to make a living for themselves and their families. These techniques include portraying themselves as sick or as lacking bus fare to a village; pretending to be blind, deaf, or crippled; sending children into the street to beg (both children and parents as beggars); sitting in strategic places such as banks, hotels, churches, temples, mosques, or bars; entering offices with a medical referral letter; presenting a supporting letter for soliciting scholarly necessities either by children or parents; or claiming to have financial difficult by Using official letters to solicit funds and Sitting by the roadside begging from passersby. I certainly do not advice deceit but one thing is certain, beggars understand human emotions, they tell stories because they know you are more likely going to be sympathetic with them when they tell you an emotional story because we are emotional beings and you should never forget that as a business person. People connect with stories.