Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day…

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Wednesday, March 3, 2010

We’ve all heard it.

The adage goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Who could argue with self-sufficiency?

However, we are wholly unlike the animal kingdom, wherein many of their young, shortly after birth, are able to stand and run, and shortly thereafter begin fending for themselves. We do not abide by, and in fact eschew, the “law of the jungle,” where “only the strong survive.”

We are conceived dependent, born dependent, raised dependent, transition through modified dependence, and then eventually, and hopefully, we end up at independence – or perhaps more accurately, interdependence.

The “I can do it all by myself” model is not entirely accurate, because one must be first taught. That is, one must first acknowledge dependence, then one must be dependent upon a teacher to be instructed.

Remember learning how to ride a bicycle?

It wasn’t difficult to sit up on that seat, grab those handlebars and pedal away, maneuvering through, over, up, under and around obstacles.

The difficult part was removing those training wheels.

First, the wheels were raised up a little at a time, and you wobbled a bit to the left and a bit to the right. But thank goodness they were still in place, or else you’d have smashed your little head onto the concrete.

One day, daddy or mommy, after watching you for some time, decided that you were capable of going it alone… and removed the training wheels.

Perhaps you begged ’em to remove them. Perhaps you cried when they did. Either way, one day, they came off.

And who was right by your side?

Yep, that’s right. And you probably crashed too, didn’t you? But then again, who was by your side?

Eventually, you managed to incorporate the skills you learned while using training wheels and transferred them over to the without-training-wheels mode.

While advocates of self-sufficiency often use that adage to support programs that actually take away from the disadvantaged, poor, outcast and others, it never seems to occur to them that teaching requires not only resources, but a significant investment of time and energy by the one doing the teaching.

Further, it presupposes that the man wants to learn, is able to learn, that the teacher has the ability, desire, expertise, time, tools and energy to instruct one how to fish, and further, that you are going to do the teaching.

Are the fish biting? Like fishing in the rain? Got a boat, fishing line, bait, tackle, hooks and pole?

May I suggest instead, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish… and you’ve opened up a whole ‘nother can of worms.”

3 Responses to “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day…”

  1. Anthony said

    Hey, nice exposition of an adage, and, nice turn of phrase in your conclusion.

    I suspect that no one really likes the idea of being dependent, and so many construct and espouse political philosophies that leave little room for the myriad of ways in which we are dependent even as adults. Of course we must all be relatively autonomous, but in the end, to quote another adage, “no man is an island.”


    • Warm Southern Breeze said

      Thanks, Anthony!

      Indeed… the line from the classic essay “Meditation XVII” by John Donne (21 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) English lawyer, poet & preacher.

      “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.


      • Anthony said

        Ahh Yes, that is the one with the also famous line “and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Even though I knew that comes from Donne, whenever I actually think of or hear “no man is an island” I always think of Thomas Merton’s book by that title, which is, of course, about human solidarity. And, now, as I am writing this to you, it strikes me that perhaps solidarity is a key word to processing this whole thing about self-sufficiency and dependency.


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