That may be our mantra but we do very little of it in our charities and welfare programs. Take food as an example. In the United States we have hundreds of food banks and soup kitchens. At the federal level we have SNAP which distributes billions in vouchers for the purchase of food. Giving away food is the goal and success is usually measured by how much food is given away. Most of the time those handing out food don’t even know the people they are giving it to. There is very little focus on teaching folks to be food independent. Why? Why do we stop short?
Often times we stop short because we feel people know how to fish; they just don’t have fish right now. Or more specifically, there are just not enough jobs out there that pay a living wage and until there is the family needs help. That may or may not be the case but it is not a justification for not looking deeper. We know that in many cases something is lacking in the individual or families. It could be poor education or poor life skills or something more invasive like alcoholism or drug addiction. We can’t just assume everyone knows how to fish or we will never help anyone learn to fish. That’s morally wrong.
Some would argue that society is far more to blame for poverty than are the individuals within poverty. That is an interesting question and may or may not be true, but it is hardly the reason not teach a man to fish. We are not trying to lay blame here we are trying to figure out whether the person knows how to fish or not. We can teach a man to fish without laying blame. It is a good reminder to strive to teach with love in our hearts and the best interest of the receiver in mind. Most charities have such standards.
The real reason we don’t teach people how to fish is that we are afraid to get personal. The prevailing logic is that it is not our business to judge the poor - it is simply not appropriate. But we can’t have it both ways – we can’t believe in teaching and yet be afraid to discern the level of education of the pupil.
When we teach a man to fish we are in effect saying, “You don’t know how to fish, I know how to fish, let me teach you how to fish.” This doesn’t happen unless we discern that the person doesn’t know how and needs to know how. We do so with a desire to help and we don’t seek to blame the individual for their non-fishing knowledge. After all, we didn’t know how to fish until someone taught us how. Isn’t that true with all life skills?
Of course it gets a lot more complicated in the real world where life skills regarding work ethic, employment, savings, budgeting, cooking, raising children and etc., are necessary to live independently. That makes discernment a challenge and judging much more personal. So we don’t do it – it is much easier to just give away food and leave it at that. We have morally justified our inaction by thinking it is not proper, or politically correct, to get personal and find out what, if anything, is missing, going wrong, or can be improved. We believe it is not proper to act superior. Such thinking has relegated discernment to a lost art.
In the end such thinking has caused the vast experience of those successful in the United States not to get passed on to those who need it. Political correctness has killed off teaching life skills. When we say “oh it isn’t my job to judge the poor”, what we are really saying is “here is a fish, come back and get another fish tomorrow.”