Tips for Fishing and Living #22

Tip # 22:

 “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  Chinese Proverb (although others claim this quote, as well).

Perhaps, this is the most common of all fishing quotes, it also is one often ignored.

We are more likely to give to a specific cause, or one-time request, than invest in a more systemic approach to another’s difficulty. This can be appropriate, but there are times when helping is helping, and when helping is not helping. As the old Marlo Thomas song says this second kind of helping, “is the kind we all could do without.”

 Previously, I presented how when our own children got into young adulthood they would invariably come to us with their anxieties and turmoil about some pressing life issue at hand. They’d be consumed by whatever they found themselves confronting, and would ask for our parental advice. Initially, I was more than glad to regale them with my sage advice. Ok, I was delighted! After all, I was chuck full of great and learned wisdom. However, this proved almost never useful. They would do one of two things: either do what I had suggested, and blame me if things turned out poorly; or they’d ignore my input and do what they wanted to do in the first place. As I said before, I eventually learned to stop giving advice. Instead, I would listen, and then tell them I had total confidence they would figure out their best solution.

 A much better stance to take since this approach was simpatico to the idea of giving one a fishing pole and some lessons to empower them. I dispensed from offering any more fish, so as to not subject them to being forever dependent and beholding. As far as I was concerned they had everything they needed to make a good decision.

 The medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, wrote about Eight degrees in the duty of charity. In 1826 an explication of the eighth degree was published in a journal called “The Religious Intelligencer,” which described it this way:

The eighth degree, and the most meritorious of all, is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty, namely, to assist others in need, either by a considerable gift or loan of money, or preferably, by teaching him a trade, or by putting him into a business, so that he may earn a livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of receiving charity. In other words not simply giving him/her a fish.

 One of our grandsons purchased a doughnut machine and worked each summer weekend at a regional farmer’s market. A woman who has a huge doughnut business a few towns away stopped by. She immediately became very excited by his neophyte business. She has since taken him under her wing, and has been offering valuable lessons she has learned along her pathway. He has a mentor in this woman who is delighted to see someone else so enterprising. This is good helping.

 There are many people glad to offer some of their experience and knowledge to others starting up a business or project. YouTube is full of decent people offering free advice and hands-on expertise for all sorts of things as one example of this. I recently replaced the drum belt on our clothes dryer by first watching a video clip.

 Americans pride themselves as rugged individualists. But we are also part of a society. The truth is we usually get where we get by having other people lending us a helping hand, whether we acknowledge this or not. Some of us are much better at giving help than we are at asking for it. Other are the opposite. Here’s the deal: each of us has some wisdom, but not all of it. We each have gifts and talents to offer. And each of us have needs and areas in which we could use help. 

 Here’s a question: Are we or are we not our brothers/sisters keepers? People come down on both sides of this idea. Politically we hear pro and con arguments as to what we should or should not do for each other. Do we do too much or too little? Do our social programs do enough to serve the needy? Do these efforts help to move people to a better place? Do they do too much, and possibly keep them stuck in, say, poverty?

 When I am asked for money on the street, usually I offer to buy some food. On numerous occasions I’ve taken people into a café, or to a diner for a breakfast or lunch instead of giving cash. I do so because I’m conflicted about possibly enabling someone’s addiction. I really don’t know if this is a better way, but I also want to do something.

 There is an old story about people from a town standing along the riverbanks and pulling out people from the river, who are floating in the turbulent water, to save them from drowning. They continue to do this for a long time, eventually becoming exhausted. Finally, someone suggests they go up the river to find out why people are falling into the river in the first place.

 We have programs in place providing immediate help but do not address the actual cause or causes for the problems people face. Our health care system is mostly about “giving a fish” instead of teaching how to fish. Could we do more to address why people get ill? Of course help those who are sick, but how about seeing what can be done to prevent people from getting sick? Education is needed to help keep them well. Some health care insurances offer wellness options such as a gym membership. It is really smart thinking. A few days a week at a gym costs a lot less than a week or two in the hospital. Unfortunately we often have disincentives in our programs that work against helping people from getting out from under their illness, homelessness, unemployment, or poverty.

 Assisting people to be healthy, or get out of poverty is a systemic approach. It goes way beyond having welfare, or universal health care, for instance. It’s about creating a society that values health for all. It’s actually about fostering a society that values all people. This is a long term approach.

 Prisons do not work for anyone. It cost more to keep someone in prison than to send someone to college. To see the “win-win” approach that addresses prison as both a place to pay for ones’ crime, as well as, rehabilitate so an offender can become a productive citizen, rather than a hardened criminal only now more of a threat to society.

 We have to address how we educate children, and be more creative in how we are preparing them for careers that don’t yet exist. This requires teaching them how to think, be imaginative and creative, and problem solve. Also, it’s about empowering them to BE the future they are being prepared for.

 Finally, we’d have to address that our thinking is a huge part of our problems. We do not think systemically. We think in linear ways: Cause and Effect, Either Or. This way of thinking keeps us stuck in ways we can’t even see. There is a certain blindness with this. We are addicted primarily to our thinking. We’d think thoughts that prevent us from addressing greed, and justifying it by occasionally giving someone a fish.

Anyone interested in providing more fishing lessons?