Which Type of Person Are You? The One Who Gives Fish or the One Who Gives Fishing Rods?

“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

One of the amazing things about rural life and being on the road is that you have a lot of time to reflect. Self-reflection is crucial to personal growth, but it is only effective when it’s honest. One of the realisations I recently came to about myself is that I am the person who gives people fishing rods but not fish. So, what exactly does that even mean?

The Fish

Imagine walking by a lake. You have a bucket of freshly caught fish and can already taste the amazing meal you’re about to make at home. On your way back to the truck, you spot one of your friends staring wistfully at the lake.

“What are you up to?” you ask.

He responds, “I would really like some fish.”

The Fish People would reach right into their buckets and give the friend a fish. They might even invite him to dinner and prepare it for him. After all, the last thing they want is to see their friend miss out on delicious fish when they have more than enough to share.

I am not this friend.

The Fishing Rod

In the scenario above, I am the person who brings all my fish home and puts it in the fridge. I decide to delay my delicious meal and instead go digging in the garage for that nice fishing rod I love but no longer use. I then drive back to the lake and give it to my friend who wants fish so badly.

I will even sit with the friend and teach him how to fish. Whatever we catch at that point is his to do whatever he likes with. I then go home, make my dinner, and enjoy a glass of wine.

To some people, this might seem cruel. Why not just give the friend a fish? It would irk my soul to do that unless I felt he was really starving.

Before you tell me I am a villain in disguise, look a little closer. It would have cost me nothing to give my friend one fish out of my bucket. Instead, I sacrificed my early dinner, a nice fishing rod, and my time to ensure my friend can catch his own fish going forward.

Tangerines and Cell Phones

I recently noticed this about myself after helping out with two specific scenarios. The first problem involved a friend whose phone had begun to malfunction. I was about to upgrade to a new cellphone, so I gave him my old one. The phone worked perfectly and barely even had cosmetic damage. He’s not super techie, so when I gave him the phone, he told me he needed help setting it up.

I could have taken the phone from him and set it up myself in 5 minutes. Instead, I spent about an hour walking him through the process of setting it up himself. During that time, he became increasingly frustrated, so much so that Shadow got scared and went to go hide. Shadow does not like raised voices, especially when it’s from a man.

Sure, it cost me an hour of my time on a workday and I had to deal with someone else’s frustration, but guess what? Now, he knows how to set up a phone when he moves from one to the next and he’ll never need me to do it for him again.

Similarly, I have a friend with a disability who can no longer peel and eat tangerines. I learned this after offering him some of the several dozen I had brought home. I could have simply peeled a few and brought it to him. Instead, I took the time to learn how to peel tangerines with the same limitations he had.

I then showed him how to do it. Now, he can peel and eat his own tangerines.

I’m not quite sure what this says about me as a person, but for better or worse, this is who I am. I’d like to think it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him the fish, but I can certainly see where some people might think it would have been better to give the fish and be on my way.

What about you? Which category do you fall into? Hopefully, you’re not the person who simply goes home to eat your fish because it’s not your problem and not your business!

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23 thoughts on “Which Type of Person Are You? The One Who Gives Fish or the One Who Gives Fishing Rods?

  1. I am mostly a person who gives the fish I realized when reading this article. But, just recently I did not do this habit because I thought that was unnecessary, they could do that by themselves. Now, I will try to put this habit into my daily life more often and use the other one as well but only if necessary.

    1. Thank you! There is nothing wrong with giving fish, though. I’m sure a lot of people in need would prefer the fish than the fishing rod. It’s just not my style of giving.

  2. I think helping takes many forms depending on the situation. What can really help? Sometimes this means giving, and sometimes this means teaching others to help themselves. Both has a place in the world. But as long as we are helping, it is a good thing!

  3. Thought provoking…. I don’t think either way is better. What is worse is enabling even grown children-giving to them constantly-so they never learn to budget etc. I may be off topic. I’m a giver and I’m a teacher.

    1. I agree with that and see it often. I was talking to a friend about that today, actually.

      Too many adults are being babied. It’s especially awful when it’s boys because they still expect a woman to step aside and let them be the head of the household when they can’t even be head of themselves.

  4. Of course I am the teacher, always all the time. In fact I sometimes frustrate people who just want me to do it. I thought about another contrast with a parallel story. A man visited a town with a river running through. The townspeople took turns pulling drowning people out of the river. They did this every day. The man walked away up river. They asked where he was going. He said “I am going to find out why all these people are going into the river!”

  5. After giving so much over the years, I will say that I’m more reticent to give so much so freely, as I’ve been disappointed in the past– now, I’m more selective of whom I give to. Since becoming an adult, I’ve found teaching to be more of my thing, as it not only suits my personality better, but it also offers the person (and myself) opportunities to grow from learning. I think it’s just preference at the end of the day!

    1. That makes you more like the fishing rod type than the fish giver! Looks like I have more company than I thought. 🙂

  6. A really heartwarming post Alexis. I think this is a lesson that has been learned by many, from individuals to governments. I participate in Kiva loans (https://www.kiva.org) where small amounts are loaned to individuals around the world to help them help themselves. They pay back over an agreed period of time and my original loan, once repaid, is re-loaned to someone else. It is a brilliant scheme which generates far better outcomes than would be achieved by just donating the same amount.

    1. Thank you! I have heard of this but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I’ll take a second look now that I know someone else has tried it. 🙂

  7. Alexis. Your blog was very thought provoking and I just had to respond. Luckily for you, your mindset is such that you want to find away around the problem to make things work. Not all people are this way and many give up after a couple of attempts because they either do not have the ability or the time and patience that it takes to learn new behavior. One of the things I notice as age creeps up on me, is that it is not necessarily the ability to perform the task but mentally make yourself do it. I find myself saying more and more, I’ll do it later or tomorrow or never. Age has its own way of slowing a body and brain down and I am not talking of senility or such. Maybe it is Natures way of protecting the physical body that is not as strong as it used to be from tasks it should not be doing. Very thought provoking blog.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond, Francis! I find that people respond to aging in so many different ways. My grandma is still insistent on doing everything herself. We’ve had to ban her from farming alone. I think in her case it’s partially because what else do you do with your time? Seniors who get bored when inactive tend to fall into that group.

      I am only 31 and find I am very much slipping into your habits early. In my case (and maybe even yours) it’s the pandemic. We’ve all been having high levels of burnout. I had to fight to keep my business afloat those first two months of the pandemic and I’ve lost almost all my “fun clients.” It takes a toll after all.

      I think ultimately we all have to find something that works for us. I just think too many people hedge their solutions on someone else solving the problem for them. Maybe it has something to do with being an only child, but I really value independence in myself and in others.

    1. I would class the fishing rod and the teacher together, mostly because the intention is the same. Instead of appeasing a short-term desire, we provide a long-term/permanent solution.

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