Susan Badeau

There are only two lasting gifts we can give our children - one is roots, the other is wings

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If You Give a Man a Fish

Posted by Sue Badeau on March 2, 2017 at 10:10 AM

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Maimonides


This quote has captured the spirit of a great deal of social justice work particularly around poverty. I always thought it was a good sentiment and have quoted it myself on more than one occasion.


And then, this week, I had an “aha” moment about this quote while working with a team dedicated to improving family and youth engagement in their community. Suggesting that the solution to hunger, poverty or other challenges a community might face is in “teaching them to fish,” begins with two assumptions. (1) Fish is what they need, and (2) they don’t know how to fish.


But imagine you are this hungry person in this storied community by the river. How likely is it that you and your family are going hungry while dozens or hundreds of healthy, edible fish are swimming past you down the river on their way to the sea? The only thing standing in the way of you and a good nourishing meal is some heroic outsider to come along and teach you how to catch those fish.


No. That’s not so likely.


More likely scenario.


You learned to fish from your grandparents and other elders. You know that the river flowing through your community should provide an abundance of food for your children and neighbors. Well-meaning outsiders keep coming to town to offer classes on “how to fish.” But they don’t listen to you when you tell them what the real problem is. There are no more fish in the river.


Why not? The river has become polluted. Years ago, you started to notice that people got sick when eating the fish. And now the fish themselves are all dead.


You don’t need a hero to teach you to fish. You need partners who will help you solve the pollution problem and make it safe and possible to fish in your community again.


Perhaps it is not pollution. Perhaps people in your village have developed a severe allergy to the types of fish that populate the river and a new food source altogether is needed. Or . . . . well you see, I could go on and on because there are many scenarios I can’t even imagine. I would only learn about them by truly listening to the people of the village before I decide how to partner with them.


I simply can’t be so sure I know the answers before listening with an open mind and open heart.


And in the meantime, if I do have a fish, it’s OK to share it. I can’t be so stuck on solving the “big picture” problem that I let people starve in front of me because I don’t want to give them a fish that will only last for today.


Sometimes, we need a friend to help us simply get through the day.


So here is my new take on the old quote:


“If we give a hungry person a fish, he will be nourished for a day and experience renewed energy, strength and hope so that together we can figure out what it will take to create a community where he, his children and his neighbors are nourished for a lifetime.”

Categories: Hope for the Journey - Devotional Reflections

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