Is it better to teach or give fish?

A debate I have seen over the years is whether it is better to give a proverbial man a fish or teach him to fish. I have seen this debate in recent days also. It comes down to arguments about how to best help someone. The arguments come out this way:

  • If all you ever do is give a man a fish, then he is fed for now, but will never be able to provide for himself. Therefore it is better to teach a man to fish.
  • If you focus on the teaching a man to fish, the man is still hungry and won’t be able to fish.

Here’s my thought – I think they are both right and wrong. In other words, why is this even an either/or type of question. I don’t accept the premise that you have to choose between the two.

If you neglect giving food to someone who is hungry, they won’t be able to learn. They will spend all their energy on survival. Learning how to fish takes time and an investment of energy, and probably relationship. If you are hungry, you don’t have those luxuries.

If you don’t teach a man to fish, they will never grow beyond being dependent either. They will be stunted and won’t be able to live more fully into who they have the potential to be.

Why not give the man a fish, and keep giving him fish until he can fish. That seems like the best option to me. It also means that we invest ourselves, our time, our experiences in the man. It’s a long term relationship that we are investing in.

Christ calls on us to feed the hungry, not pretend they aren’t hungry. So we should do that. And when I’m done feeding the hungry man, I am called to walk alongside him to help him learn how to fish, not only so he can be fed on his own, but that he could then empower others to do so as well.

And along the way, I’d probably learn some things from him too because I know that I don’t have life figured out, and that I’m broken, but in different ways than the hungry man. He might even teach me a better way to fish. Or he might show me something better than fish, because no matter how much I might like fish, I appreciate variety even more.

Either/or ideas rarely work out well. Life is far more complex than these ways of thinking. We miss out on so many options and opportunities. We miss building relationships and community. We become focused on being right and showing how those we disagree with are wrong. We miss out on so much.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *