I once gave a stranger R200 on the strength of a tale of woe and a promise that he’d pay it back — by electronic transfer — and so justly merited the keen if good-natured ribbing from my family, whose judgment proved more acute than my own. There was no evading the truth that, in my case at least, the borderland between trust and naivety is a region of jeopardy, poorly signposted and best approached in an alert frame of mind. I like to think there is some virtue in taking the risk of trusting that people are as good as they seem at first glance, though a concession to caution is doubtless justified. Just recently I read a book about a man who, while living incognito, was fondly remembered as polite and charming, an accomplished violinist who delighted his intimates of that time with performances of Beethoven and Mozart — and who, later on, had been so lovably present in his youngest son’s universe that, after dad "disappeared", the little boy waited every evening, sad and puzzled, l...

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