Give a Man a Fish

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This saying has been around for a long time, but how do we apply it to life? What it means is that when we give handouts to people, it’s only a short-term solution. That person won’t go hungry for the rest of the day, but the same person will be just as hungry the following day. If we keep on giving people fish each day, they’ll never learn how to take care of themselves, and we might actually run out of fish, too. The better solution is to provide people with skills that they can use to become self-sufficient.

Most of us don’t live subsistence lives where we have to fish and hunt and grow our own food, so for the example above, substitute welfare for giving the fish. The welfare system is a failure because it makes people dependent. It removes people’s motivation to learn to take care of themselves, but it does something even worse than that. It actually prevents people from learning the skills they need to take care of themselves and their families and fish for a lifetime metaphorically speaking.
A far better solution than doling out money to people who do not how to fish is providing training opportunities and opportunities for entrepreneurship. Imagine that the man does not simply learn how to fish, but opens his own fish store. A small business can be a tremendous opportunity for both growth and security over the long term.

In order to enact effective welfare reform, people must be taught to fish. In other words, they must be taught how to run a small business. Rather than offering endless handouts, people must be offered opportunities to train in various needed skills as well as classes in finance and how to set up a small business plan and apply for loans.

What the rest of the saying does not get into is the fact that not only will giving the man a fish result in someone who is hungry again the next day, but it will lead to generations of people lining up for that same fish each morning because they have not been taught the skills they need by their families. Small business opportunities for the poor ensure successful generations of families.

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