Monday, November 9, 2009

Fishing for Others

The Development Question

Since being here in Nicaragua, I have often considered the illusive and ever-evolving idea of sustainable development. I have entertained several theories, some simple, some complex, which originally lead me to the idea that that answer lied in the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. I now believe it to be much simpler than that. Here is basically how I broke it down: Brigada development is "give a man a fish" development. He eats for a day, but may have starved otherwise. It is necessary, but not sustainable. The second form of development is that which is employed by the majority of organizations working in third world development: "teach a man to fish." Sure, he eats for a lifetime, but then you are left to teach another man to fish. That, therefore, is not sustainable either. The Peace Corps approach is more like "teach a man to teach a man to fish." This way, the village eats for generations and you go home. Is it sustainable? It is if the village likes fish. That is to say, it is a great idea, fishing, but they don´t own it. Everybody knows that the boy who has a paper rout and saves up to buy his own bike will take better care of it than the boy who recieves a bike as a gift. This lead me to the fourth approach to sustainable develpment, or at least to fishing. It is this: "teach a man to think and he'll find a way to eat." Although we know that "fish" isn´t literally "fish," I used the word "eat" here to leave it more ambiguous. This theory is a little bit more complex. Basically it is the idea that if given the means to occur naturally, the idea of development will become liquid and fill the shape of the container it is given. This is the most sustainable means of development out of the four mentioned, as it makes no assumptions about the size or the shape of the container. However, it gets really ugly really quickly when one considers the enormous task of developing critical thinking and problem solving skills over generations. How do you teach a people to think?

Enter the fifth theory. It is so much simpler than all of this. It´s not new. Not by far. Nor does it require generations and generations of work and long complex explanations. This is not some obscure Jared Diamond social theory. Here is how it works: "Teach a man to fish for others." Service. Simple as that. How does this relate to development? To answer that, one has to first chose one of the dozens of definitions available for the word. That is, we have to ask ourselves, "what is the end-goal?" "Toward what are we developing?" By by-passing all of the complicated problems with "development" work infringing on cultural identities, or imposing Western ideals on under developed cultures, the answer can be as simple as a fulfilling life, personal liberty, and happiness. If this is developement, then the answer can be as simple as SERVICE.

My friends, the Golden Rule is flawed. The Golden Rule asks that you do unto others only after first asking about yourself. It requires that you first ask "How do I want to be done unto?" Forget that. I say, "Do unto others as they need done unto, and for once don´t ask 'what's in it for me?'"

It comes down to this: This life, for whatever reason you assign to it, or whatever religion you use to justify it, is hard. I don´t care if you´re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hare Krishna, Pagan, Athiest or anything else. This life is just hard. If there is anything you can do to make it just a little bit easier for anybody, then damnit, do it! Do it now. Do it quietly. Do it well, with all of your best talents and resources. Do it selflessly. And learn to graciously accept the service of others.

I have started a new blog for the purpose of making anonymous comments about services rendered, recieved or even witnessed. The idea is that it is hard to set an example by doing things anonymously, yet the examples are so important to inspire others. Please comment on this blog and do so anonymously to preserve the spirit. The blog is

I hope all is well with all of you.


Brooke said...

I love this! and I love your Halloween post. Halloween just isn't the same without you guys. I dressed up as an M&M for work, pretty weak. Without your costume party we have no motivation to really come up with a something and dress up. I really love this post. You are so wise.

Becky said...

Very well put Kory.