Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #84:

“Fishing is a… discipline in the equality of men – for all men are equal before fish.” 

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover’s lifelong passion for fishing is well-known.  No other President has had a biographer publish a book subtitled, The Fishing President, but for Hoover. The book describes Hoover’s fishing exploits first as young Bert Hoover pulling in a ‘record’ twelve incher, later on a fourteen year old Bert fishing with his uncle and a friend and pulling one hundred trout from an Oregon stream, plus many other fishing adventures. His was a long love affair that continued on into his post-presidency. Into his late 80s he enjoyed hours of Gulf Coast fishing. Then on April 3, 1962 Hoover proclaimed this time to be his last fishing trip. He gave away his rod at the end of the day. He died on October 20, 1964 at age 90.

Hoover’s passion led to him speaking at numerous fishing conventions and events. In his retirement, in 1951, he wrote ‘Men are Equal before the Fish’ for a Florida magazine. He also compiled his thoughts on fishing in a later book entitled: Fishing for Fun–And to Wash Your Soul. In this book he states a fuller version of the quote cited above:

‘Fishing is a chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of the sun on the blue water….  It is discipline in the equality of man–for all men are equal before fish.’

His was a time before an awareness of inclusive language, still there is great truth in all are equal in  dignity and worth – and not just before fish, but in every other way, as well. Christians are hardly alone in the belief that within each person is a sacred dignity that comes by virtue of Creator. This doesn’t mean we are the same when it comes to talent and ability and drive. But we are all meant to be given equal opportunities for each of us to utilize. As we know too well, not all agree with this fundamental tenet.

Systemic racism exists regardless of who agrees or denies its existence. As a Nation we hold that we all are created equal, but we must recognize how inconsistent we have been and still are in carrying this tenet into action. We have enormous injustices toward people of color and minorities. They are too often treated unjustly by the policed, are dealt unfairly regarding wealth access, healthcare, housing, education, and numerous other ways.

For a long time I have been critical of many of our institutions. I have thought of them as dysfunctional. I concluded, for instance, that our healthcare system isn’t designed to manage various situations; that it’s broken. But I now believe it would be better to think of it as operating functionally and working as it is designed to work: namely without consideration for the poor and disenfranchised. Too many of our institutions make money by excluding groups of people and denying them services. Our prisons they make a ton of money from a criminal justice system that disproportionally works against minorities and people of color. It also perpetuates these unjust ways by operating as a punitive rather than rehabilitative institution.

Our federal government, of late, has boldly taken regressive steps rather than actions that advance our efforts for equity and inclusion. It has done so without the slightest pretense. Corruption has continued unfettered and without even an effort at concealing an intentional dismantling of our democracy. Blatant discrimination, marginalizing, and disenfranchising has been taking place almost on a daily basis.

How are we not providing financial assistance to huge numbers of desperate families suffering from the pandemic and the economic crisis? How is it possible to see continual attempts to eliminate health care for so many people? How do we make sense of the perpetual efforts to make it more difficult for people of color and the poor to vote in our elections?

These are blatant efforts to exclude people through systematic lies, deception, and a bombardment of misinformation. It is an intentional undermining of our democracy, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Senator McCarthy.

What is most upsetting is the silence of so many who know better. We have been experiencing a failure of nerve by many of our leaders on so many levels. Many average Americans feel numbed out and exhausted by this steady barrage of regression. And many of us are also guilty of a white fragility. We may even have Black brothers and sisters who have had to learn to tolerate our fragility and have gone easy on us regarding our white privilege so as to not make us white folk uncomfortable or feel offended. The middle-class is a huge obstacle to racial justice. 

Dr. King called out white people for their “tepidness and flaccidity” of a commitment to racial reconciliation. He was right back when he spoke these words, and he’d be right today. “The ultimate tragedy,” King once said, “is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

We also must acknowledge that we have made some progress, some positive advances. As flawed and thwarted as these past few years have been, and as much as we are now dealing with so much discord, we’ve done some things to improve our society, and we need to take this progress as motivation to move us forward into 2021. We have a lot to repair from this latest back sliding.

The question is has this time we have just experienced provided us with wakeup call – a tipping point? If so are we prepared to continue toward the original promise of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Dream by making it our dream? This requires all people of good will coming together, engaging and getting involved. And for us white people it is more than time to shed our fragility.

It is paramount that we become contemplative people. Through contemplation we will gain the capacity to confront our part in a racist society and our own white privilege. Contemplative people are people who not only have prophetic thoughts, they also take action. These actions must stem from our contemplation – the place where our humanity and integrity blossoms. When we join together we become wiser than who we may think we are.

I do not need to know all the information contained at the public library. I need only to know how to use the library; and in truth I only need to know how to ask for assistance in using the library. There are plenty of PhD’s who are brilliant yet unproductive – not to mention, unhappy – while there are others with less raw talent and capacity, but who have fortitude and a focus makes them effective in unimaginable ways.

I’m not knocking PhD’s, I’m simply saying we each have our own particular brand of brilliance. Maybe we are all a bit idiot savant and each of us holds but a piece of the wisdom. By coming together to contribute our piece we make a better whole. We also need to be become better at living with the realities of today’s complexities without rushing to some hasty and simplistic solutions. This requires a certain tolerance for ambiguity and a capacity for non-linear thinking.     

Hoover offers insights into the mentality of fishermen, and as you know by now I love expanding fishing insights as potentially useful for everyone. For starters he tells us that fishers: “must be of a contemplative mind, for it is often a long time between bites.” I take this to mean we need patience and persistence.

Then he adds: “he (a fisher) is someone who is by nature optimistic or he would never go fishing.” Contemplation and optimism go hand in hand. From contemplative living (and the discipline of a contemplative practice) we learn how to surrender our more anxiously driven and fretful ways for a calmer and greater presence. This does indeed require an optimistic mind set. Such optimism allows for a surrendering to our Creator and a letting go of our worries, fits, concerns, etc. – in other words handing over our fear-based ego enterprises – those things we do so automatically when we are not calm and not feeling at peace. Was Hoover a mystic? A prophet?

This was the time of the Stock Market collapse, the Great Depression, and when FDR promised the New Deal to get the country back on its feet. It doomed Hoover to a one-term presidency. FDR beat Hoover out of a second term. In spite of this Hoover offers us some useful insights. One seems timely and is worth thoughtful reflection for our own purposes:

“Be patient and calm – for no one can catch fish in anger.”

Not with anger and not with indifference can we address the enormity of our suffering and death of our brothers and sisters from this pandemic. We cannot just give mere lip service to the multigenerational systemic racism that continues to permeate our nation. And we cannot remain silent in the midst of the evil that goes unchecked. We are either part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Let us reflect, then, on our present state. Imagine us joining together with our compassion, our care, and all the love exuded by such actions. This is the way to bring about something truly transformational. Let’s join together to think through, and move boldly from contemplation into creating our democracy that does work for everyone. 

I suggest we take a few cues from what any good fisherperson knows and would do.