Whenever there are discussions about how to help poor people, the quote is always thrown out: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. And this is a severely oversimplified statement that doesn’t take into consideration human nature in times of food insecurity, nor does it reflect my personal hope from the community I live in.
I’ve written here before on my thoughts on poverty and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I definitely believe it’s harder to seek out paths of self-improvement when you’re still struggling to stabilize the bottom of that pyramid in terms of food and safety. This is something that platitude definitely doesn’t consider. That it’s hard to learn to fish when you’re constantly worried that you do not have any fish. Human nature makes us more open to expansive ideas of self and meaning once we are…you know…not starving.
So I think you should definitely feed the man for the day. For sure. Because he’s not going to be up to learning to fish until he’s no longer worried about his survival.
But also…there are people out here with more fish than they know what to do with. If you accept that Jeff Bezos is worth 178 Billion dollars and there are 38 million people living in poverty in the US, he could give each of those people an extra 200 bucks a month and have only impacted half of his wealth. So he’d still have 80+ Billion dollars. 200 bucks extra for one person would give them a lot of fish for the month. And Jeff would still be a Billionaire by 80 times.
I think people lose grasp on how much more the haves have than the have nots. (Sidenote: I agree that one of the biggest signs of the failures of capitalism is that Billionaires even exist.) To me, it’s unacceptable that anyone is starving with that many extra fish in the hands of a small minority.
But we also forget that there’s a good chance that Man who is starving has children. Did you know that one in three Black children in the US are living in poverty? If you live in white suburbia think of how many white kids you know. Now imagine if one in three of them lived in poverty. That’s what it’s like in black communities. (For reference, one in eleven white children live in poverty.) Who cares if the guy learns to fish if his children are starving? If children grown up feeling safe and fed then they are more likely to thrive in school and break the cycle of poverty they may come from.
My perfect community is one where we don’t set extreme financial goals of excess while there are people starving around us. The higher you climb on the income ladder, the more likely you are surrounded by similarly wealthy people because your habits change making your communities change. Once you can afford a boat, you hang out with more boat people. Our family’s example was: Once you can afford the cost of the race fees and the equipment associated with triathlons, you hang out with more people who can afford the same. You naturally shift your community and so things like…spending 3,000 on a mountain bike (GUILTY!) make sense because you know so many other people who are doing it.
But in reality…that’s quite excessive. But we don’t realize it because we don’t have a lot of people living in poverty in our social circle. Whereas when I was a single Mom/college student when E was little, I would have died of a heart attack to discover people spent $3,000 on mountain bikes. I was picking up my furniture off the side of the road and buying Christmas presents at the dollar store.
My point of all of this is? It’s a hella stupid adage. So I fixed it.