Tips for Fishing and Living # 47

Tip #47:

“There is no greater fan of fly-fishing than the worm.” 

                                              Patrick F. McManus, Never Sniff a Gift Fish, 1979

Nobody gets very far in this life all on their own. People love to talk like they did it on their own, and to spout the famous quote how they “pulled themselves up by their own boot straps.” This of course is simply not true. You may have worked exceedingly long and very hard but all us have received help from many others even if we can’t or won’t admit it.

The reason we have been given help is true is because each of us have benefitted from all those who have gone before us. Each of us stands on the shoulders of many, many people. It’s also true that we have learned so much from lots of people – parents, teachers, coaches, authors – and countless others along the way. Even if you had parents that were complete flops as parents, we can still say “thank you” to them for giving us life, plus whatever else they were able to provide. If your parents fell short by doing many things wrong or by doing things very poorly, still say “thank you.” They taught you what not to do. It is still all a gift.

I consider myself to be a pretty independent, self-reliant person. However, in my heart, I also am profoundly well aware that both sets of my grandparents came to this country around the turn of the last century. They left their own birth land to never return there again. They had to travel across the Atlantic by steamship and arrived in a totally unfamiliar place. They overcame many hardships, made enormous sacrifices, and persevered through huge challenges. And through all of this they managed to eke out a life in a foreign country with a foreign language and foreign customs. They raised my parents to take up this effort and to further it. My own parents continued this pursuit of hard work and progress. The result of their doing so, they literally paved the way for me. Because of them I get to enjoy the great life I have today.

Because of them I continue to enjoy wonderful opportunities. I am here because they were brave enough to risk everything. I got to grow up in a place where I would meet my wife, where we would then fall in love, marry, and together raise our family. When I sit today in our fabulous house, or when our children and their spouses and children gather together, I am filled with deep gratitude as I think of my ancestors. I enjoy so much that I could easily, and too often do, take for granted. But in my heart I know none of these things would ever have been possible without their courage, sacrifice and bravery.

It’s so easy to be delusional and think we did it on our own. But you and I know we are our parents’ and grandparents’ legacy. The rugged individual is a myth; it’s a lie. Okay, you worked very hard to become educated, to pursue a career, and to make something out of your life. But you and I were only able to do this is because of what our parents and all those other people who came before us did to pave the way. We honor our ancestors when we go about living our life out fully. My succeeding in my life today means their sacrifice was not made in vain. I believe they look down from above and smile.     

It’s more than silly to think that we each did it on our own. People are quick to blame their parents and/or families when their life doesn’t work out as they planned. But less often do we credit our parents for our successes. It is important we recognize we are standing on the ground of our forefathers and foremothers. This is sacred ground. They toiled, often paying a great price, so we could have this moment to do our thing – and hopefully doing our thing is something worthwhile.

On a systemic level it’s also true when it comes to our nation. All those who gained our freedom and liberties and who did heroic things did so for us to have our democracy today. The baton has been passed. We need to acknowledge those who went before us and gave us this present – precious – moment. 

Each of us drives on roads, across bridges, and utilizes structures built by many who came before us. We are here living in this democracy because 34 men originally signed the Declaration of Independence. These forefathers declared our nation’s independence from Great Britain. They DECLARED our independence. They then spent their lives being hunted down by the British as traitors. Many were captured, imprisoned, and tortured. Several were killed. All of them risked everything and had to flee for their lives. Because of their bravery, we, their beneficiaries, live here in a place we too often take for granted.

If we are honest we must admit that we’re often willing to let others pick up the slack or take over responsibility for today’s challenges with the rigorous work it entails. But, in fact, we are charged to do our part. This includes acknowledging what it is we have inherited, and what it means for us to now make our contribution for future generations. What kind of a world are we to leave our children?

In a large way our stepping up has not been looking so good. Starting with the environment, we have done much to ruin the planet and we continue being irresponsible towards making it better. Returning to the fishing metaphor, we think little regarding the cost to the worm. Fishing with bait is tough on the worm, but usually we only see the prize of the fish we catch.

In Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, he writes about how leaders often make decisions that they then do not get to experience the consequences of their decisions. He calls this is an organizational learning disability. This is also often true in all systems: families, businesses, institutions.

In the New Testament we’re told how Jesus chided Peter, who is on the beach and who hadn’t caught any fish, by instructing him to go back out again and this time cast his nets in a certain area. The result of Peter doing so is he caught so many fish that he had trouble containing them. Peter immediately realizes this Jesus to be someone radically special, and in Peter’s view, beyond Peter’s own self-worth. Jesus disregards Peter’s off putting comments, and instructs him to leave everything, follow him, and be a fisher of people. What Peter does not realize, at the time, is that this invitation will eventually require Peter to become the bait. Peter will be consumed by this calling. His new vocational calling will cost him his life. And it is the only calling that is worthwhile.