Thursday, December 1, 2005

Either/Or -- Go Fish

Most people have heard the saying, "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime." For me, this kind of message typifies the either/or society.

There are those that would argue that the art of fishing is fine, but the man is hungry and should be fed now. Worry about the present situation and let someone else endeavor to offer instruction on the methods of proper fishing.

Then there are those who would decry such a strategy. Look to the future, they say. Stave off future problems by teaching the man a skill for survival.

For me, both solutions are good ones. Instead of juxtaposing them against each other (either/or), they lend themselves well to a two-step strategy. Since the man is hungry right now, give him the damn fish (and maybe a bottle of wine to go with it). If he's open to the idea, share the meal with him.

Once he's fed, THEN teach him how to fish.

Studies have shown that school children who come to class hungry are less apt to learn. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Hunger has a way of impeding the learning process.

The underlying lesson here is that the short-term and long-term are equally important. Neglect one and we short change the other. From a Taoist perspective, this could well be termed trying to achieve balance.


  1. That saying has always tweaked me, for just that reason. Recently, my mind seems always to connect it with the ad for one of the children's charities in which a man is walking beside a little girl, telling the audience how she has to walk barefoot in the filthy streets with stones cutting her tiny feet. I always have the same reaction: "Then pick her up, you heartless ass."

    It really seems to be the same problem of ignoring a short term solution (picking her up) in favor of a long term one (getting money so she can have shoes). I also now imagine how much more effective it would have been as an ad if he had picked her up, then quietly pointed out that he couldn't be there to do that for her every day, but....

  2. The highest good is not to seek to do good,
    but to allow yourself to become it.
    The ordinary person seeks to do good things,
    and finds that they can not do them continually.

    The Master does not force virtue on others,
    thus she is able to accomplish her task.
    The ordinary person who uses force,
    will find that they accomplish nothing.

    The kind person acts from the heart,
    and accomplishes a multitude of things.
    The righteous person acts out of pity,
    yet leaves many things undone.
    The moral person will act out of duty,
    and when no one will respond
    will roll up his sleeves and uses force.

  3. Fresh from my copy of Tao Te Ching! :-)


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