The One Problem with Teaching A Man How to Fish

Last week, I was watching a liberal and a conservative have a debate about welfare. They echoed the talking points that their particular group tends to spout.

The conservative, who was black, believed that to help the poor typically results in teaching them a learnt helplessness and dependency on the government. The white liberal gave statistics on the working class poor who work many hours a day and earn less than minimum wage as prices on goods and services (especially healthcare) go up.

The objective person can see that there’s merit to both arguments and will admit that it’s a fine line to tread. If you help people, you might disempower them, but if you don’t help them, they may very well die.

This is when the age-old Chinese proverb of “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” comes into play. For the liberals and conservatives who actually care about people and them being the master of their destinies, they can unite on this ancient maxim.

However, it is important to look at these words and try to play it out in one’s mind.

If you take disenfranchised or uneducated men and women and teach them a skill in order to provide for themselves and their families, they would have a very hard time learning if they are not first fed. They would have a very hard time taking the exam if they don’t have the means to get to the examination. They would fail to be masters of their destinies if they have nothing and no one to help them up.

If one has the means to attend the teachings or if the teacher comes to you, that’s great. However, it’s not enough that a government provides schools if the people that the schools are providing for cannot focus or cannot attend. This is why we champion breakfast programmes, building enough schools to cater for locals and the like.

It isn’t that we haven’t realised this. Governments the world over have put in measures to help those who cannot yet help themselves. The issue I am raising here is that we constantly forget the lesson and get caught up in worrying about helping people to the extent that they take advantage of you versus appearing to be a good citizen and trying to uplift people whenever and wherever.

We can all agree that it is through struggle that we find the answers we’ve been looking for. The conservative wouldn’t want to take that away from anyone as she has experienced that herself and endorses that others benefit from the experience, however arduous.

We can all agree that the system is not setup so that we all can survive, much less thrive due to the mistakes of yesteryear. The liberal wouldn’t want people to die as they try to fulfil their goals with little to no education on how to do so.

In my own experience, I’ve benefited from not getting help and finding the answer through my own trials and errors, and I’ve also furthered my life through the kindness of others.

I think those of us who are partisan, if we are honest with ourselves, will find times when it was good to be helped and times when it was good that we were left alone. In this matter, to try and shoehorn individuals into one side over the other is doing them and yourself a disservice.

Ultimately, each situation an individual faces will require different needs. Some are equipped at birth to handle certain things, others aren’t, but the situations one faces in life are more than one can count.

Making a living, finding a compatible and healthy partner, being a good friend, promoting life-affirming values — these are just some of the things that people desire in life that are linked to life satisfaction but they are all important and not necessarily easy for all of us to figure out.

So while it is good to give a man help (fish), better to teach a man how to help himself, even better to give a man help and teach him how to help himself later, it is excellent to know that some people need the help for certain things, and at other times, they need to figure it out on their own.

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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