"Give a man a fish, and feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and feed him for a lifetime."
Ancient proverbs like this tend to encapsulate wisdom in simple and memorable terms. Often, they fail to incorporate much necessary nuance, but such is the nature of the device.
I would add to this old proverb "Teach someone to teach others to fish, and you feed the whole world... at least for as long as there are fish in the world."
There are a number of economic implications at each step in this particular proverbial progression. We should all be so generous as to share our repast with others, when it is possible. Sharing a meal is one of the most rewarding and intimate encounters between people, and feeding the hungry or starving is surely a noble thing.
Is it more noble than selling food? I might argue "Sell a man a fish, and feed not only the man, but also yourself and your family." In this regard, selling (or trading) might be seen as more noble than giving. You are sustaining the customer, and also your business which must have a way to endure if it is to continue sustaining others. Yet the conditions must be right for balanced trade transactions, and under other circumstances giving is best. Still other times may necessitate withholding -- neither giving nor selling.
As for teaching, we may indeed enrich others in perpetuity, sometimes after only a single lesson. If the lesson is free, the benefits to the teacher are indirect. There is not only the satisfaction of having played a part in improving the world, there is very real reward of living in a better world.
Many of us have asked our teachers how we can ever repay them. Wisdom and its kin (knowledge, skill) are priceless. Our teachers, knowing this, and grateful to whatever source originally nourished them, often will simply say "pass it on." And so that becomes our debt to our teachers, to pay it forward. And this can be one of the happiest of obligations we can hope to assume.
This shouldn't automatically demean those who choose to sell their teachings, as long as the selling doesn't corrupt their sense of humility and generosity. Teachers who withhold lessons when the student is clearly ready, only to stretch the profits, are no better than the fishmonger who sells at prices far above the value of the catch. That said, teachers and their families should be supported and sustained if we truly treasure their priceless gifts. In this way the flow is reciprocal and the transaction more balanced. Students should still be ready to assume the glad debt of passing it on, but having a care for the teacher can only create a better and more productive relationship where master and apprentice serve one another.
When teaching someone to teach others, there are also issues. Inevitably (and rightly) some students will become teachers, start their own schools, and teach other students who may also become teachers. This is a natural cycle. Unfortunately, sometimes a student will break away and take from their benefactor and give nothing back. Perhaps fellow students are enticed from the original school, to the detriment of the teacher and the remaining students. Some new teachers may wish to exaggerate their own worth and feel the need to denigrate their former teachers. Such cases are tragic and serve no purpose.
There are abusive teachers, of course, and escape from such is always wise. Imparting lessons learned from a bad situation can benefit others, but the spirit should be one of illumination rather than degradation. In most cases, bad feelings arise from misunderstandings and simple human shortcomings. Teachers who fall from pedestals will often suffer the wrath of those who constructed the alter in the first place. Lies and gossip ensue, and the fountain is forever poisoned for all.
There is another lesson of teaching others to teach. If we are to feed the world for as long as there are fish in the world, then we must ensure there will always be fish aplenty wherever we cast our nets.
If we say that we must not pollute the waters, nor take more than can be replenished, nor populate ourselves beyond sustainability, is not a matter of allegory or aphorism. These are things which ought to be stunningly obvious to the youngest and least experienced among us. But as the lesson relates to other domains, it means we must have a care whom we teach, and when, and why.
To give our lessons away is like serving a meal to friends. We do so with joy and are glad to have the company, pleased to be able to share our bounty, and honored when guests sit at our table and break bread with us.
Or, to give our lessons away may be like alms to the poor. We have what they need, and if we can give it without hurting ourselves, then we should. But if giving out of charity, we must also be sure we do not compromise the dignity of the beneficiary.
But if we invite others to our table often enough, we must accept certain truths. Unless we have limitless wealth, we must recognize that our house will need more maintenance, more often. If our fare is fine, friends will bring friends who will bring strangers. Our gardens will need to be enlarged (or our fishing boats spend more time in the water). Strangers may become friends, or not.
Better when friends become family, and of their own accord, bring side dishes and start to help with preparation and cleanup. They are mindful of impact to the house and grounds, partly because it's the right thing to do, but also because they feel some ownership of the premises. Better still when there is a network of houses, hearths, and ovens, where hosts in one setting may be guests, friends, family, in another.
If the fare is fine, the guests may be greedy and wish to keep others out. Small, private, intimate gatherings are very special, but after some time, the bread goes stale, the wine turns sour, and conversations run in circles.
If the fare is fine, the guests may wish to trumpet their discovery far and wide. With a successful banquet comes recognition, honor, new friends, a greater network, and potentially the wealth of a worthy business venture. With success also comes the hangers-on, the parasites, the drunken brawlers and the broken furniture.
The teaching of teachers therefore requires openness, but with guarded gates. Some may be admitted who are not worthy, that they may become worthy. Any who spoil the feast should be banished. Those who contribute but a token might be tolerated for long, but not forever.
Everyone loves to eat and drink, but not everyone loves to cook or clean. Let such people in, but only if they love more than the eating. They must love fishing, or gardening, or carpentry. They must be lovely to behold, or witty and entertaining. Whether guest or host, student or teacher, never forget that we are all cannibals, and the food on the table is not the main course.
Therefore, serve only that which nourishes and delights.
Give a man a fish.
Teach a man to fish.
Teach a man to teach.
Sell fish. Sell knowledge.
Traffic in love and beauty.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA