Letters: An Inevitable Conversation

Japayuki: A Novel

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

“Give a man a fish...

..and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Those Chinese knew what they were talking about. This proverb will outlive us all, and probably do more good. I prefer this over the Golden Rule, “do unto others.” Still, as with everything else in life, its hit and miss.

Of course, I don’t speak of literally teaching a person to fish, rather about educating and motivating to succeed in general. My written work addresses many issues which plague and “hold back” otherwise exceptional people. As a high school teacher, I saw so many “lost” and disillusioned teens. So many lacked the basic motivation and drive to pursue even their most basic education, it was disheartening, almost depressing. I watch so many of my own family members stop pursuing school after high school (I’m elated when I hear of one of them returning, even later in life).

When one drops out of high school, I see it as simply giving up on life. You see, we have a large family; one might say, a large not very well off family. When even one stops reaching for a better life, when one child gives up, it impacts the whole family. They don’t realize it, but it does.

Here is another adage for you, “There is no such thing as a free lunch!” Everything in life has a price. Simply put, an individual’s quality of life depends on how hard they want to work. Back to my high school students. There were the two classes of kids: those with, and those without. But what the kids “without” didn’t realize was, those kids “with” were in reality no better off than themselves. A fourteen year old has not “made it” in life. They may be flashing the iPhone and the Abercrombie & Fitch clothes Mom and Dad have provided them (for now), but that will not extend much pass graduation. Nobody wants to be that 40 year old still living with Momma.

I have family on two continents; and, it is surprising how similar those two families actually are. When my wife and I share stories, it is funny how they are so very much alike. We both grew up in essentially the one room shacks, with multiple people sprawl wherever they would fit. Both of us tell stories of days when there was simply no food to put on the table. Both of us describe the days when a simple thought was difficult because of the hunger we were experiencing. But we also share the stories of how we both got off our asses at very early ages and did what we had to do not only to ensure our own survival, but to make sure others ate as well. I think it’s safe to say, at our present age, we will never, ever experience hunger again, nor want for anything (knocking on wood).

It would be so easy for my wife and I to simply “give” every one of our family members that fish, that day (metaphorically and literally speaking). We could do it. We could buy sacks of rice; kilos of fish, pork, chicken, beef, all the vegetables they could eat. But tomorrow, they would be hungry again, and let’s face it, we may not be here tomorrow.

No. We do not feed the masses. We push the youngsters to continue their education. Sometimes we help with that only because that falls under the “teach a man to fish part.” Still some refuse to even do that. We have our share of high school drop outs, and we have our share of college drop outs. Even the heart breaking kind; those who lack that one semester, and even that one class for their diploma; but that’s okay. We never give up on anyone. We never lose heart, only because we know, one of these days, those hunger pangs are going to hit home. Living in that crowded one room shack is going to get old. Waiting for someone to feed you is not going to cut it. The extended hand will remain empty, and the reality of life will become clear.

I said it was a hit and miss proposition, and yes, we have those who are struggling, doing without, but signing up for that next course. I’m not saying we have favorites in this family, but these motivated and focused young ones do have our attention. And finally, we have those (the graduates), who no longer need our fish, only because they now have the knowledge and the skills to catch their own (and are). Nothing is more satisfying for a parent, grand parent, aunt or uncle than knowing a child they watched grow up, no longer needs their help (or fish). They are going to be okay.

Some people call it tough love; some call it abandonment; we call it teaching kids that a person isn’t dealt a bad hand in life, a person simply live the life they choose for themselves. So when someone pouts because we say no to buying them a “smart” phone, or a “notebook,” it doesn’t faze us. If a child can learn how to fire off a gazillion text messages and master Facebook, they can enroll in a class, learn a trade or profession, and buy their own “smart” phone, because in this life, “standing by” believing that daily fish is coming is foolish indeed..

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