Give a man a fish you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.
This is one of the most well known and often quoted sayings/proverbs in the world. It’s one that I have heard many times throughout my life. It’s also one that I often think we don’t fully know the meaning of or understand the true message behind it. There are times when it is best to just “give a man a fish” and other times to “teach a man.” Here’s what’s On My Mind with regards to this.
Train. One of, if not the key point of our lives is to learn. We live to grow and develop. Throughout our lives, we are all trained. We are trained to live our lives, to “feed” ourselves for a lifetime. We learn from family, friends, schools, experiences and other means. We are given knowledge to do certain things and many times we seek out more knowledge. We may then have the opportunity to train others, to share the knowledge we have gained; to “teach a man.” However, it requires more than that.
Equip. You decide to teach a man to fish. You gather your fishing poles, hooks, nets, bait and all other needed equipment and meet him down by the river. Over the next several hours you teach him how to use your equipment. He even catches a nice fish that he can eat for dinner. You feel successful. You feel he can now do it on his own. You collect your equipment and leave.
Although the man now knows how to fish, he can’t. He doesn’t have the tools. You left him nothing. As you drive away, you realize teaching him how to fish was not enough and that in the end, you only fed him for a day. You return. You decide to give him at least some or all the tools he needs. In addition, you decide to teach how he can gain additional tools when needed.
Allow. The knowledge and tools are in his position. However, he can’t use them. He does not have permission. He has sought allowance, but no one will allow him to utilize the knowledge you have given him or the tools he possesses. Despite the rejection, he does not give up. He endures and eventually is granted the permission.
Choice. This is what I feel is the most important element of this famous saying. There are three main points when it comes to the element of choice.
1) You teach a man, provide him all the tools and equipment he needs and ensure he has the permission. However, he chooses not to use it. He understands what he was taught. He has the physical and mental ability to apply that knowledge and use the resources in his position, but he rejects it. He chooses not to do anything. When we have the ability, we must take responsibility for our lives. We must choose to do what we can to feed ourselves.
2) The man wants to learn to fish. He would love to be able to feed himself, but he can’t. He has made the right choice, but unfortunately, he is physically or mentally unable to.
3) Third point of choice relates to the teacher. When faced with either of the two previous situations we have a choice. We can condemn, judge, hate, and reject the man who has the ability but chooses not to and we can ignore the man who wants to but can’t. The other option is to be kind to both. That is, we can “feed a man a fish.” We can hope the man who has the ability but chooses not to will eventually change. That he will feel the love and the compassion we are showing and choose to do what he knows is right. If not, the unwanted consequences will eventually come. For the man who is unable but willing, when we choose to “feed a man fish” he is likely to immediately appreciate our kindness, which leads to the last set of thoughts that are On My Mind.
Happiness. Ultimately, when we choose to “give a man a fish…” or “teach a man to fish” happiness can come for all. Happiness for the man we taught, has the needs tools and permission and chose to use them. Happiness for the man who was not able to but wants to. Happiness for us, because of our willingness to serve others and the joy and happiness that came about as a result of our choices.