Recently my mother returned from a trip to Guyana with the Salvation Army, the course of which was spent renovating a seniors’ home. A few nights ago she, my father, and I were having dinner at my grandparents’ house where my mother was recounting some of her experiences. My grandfather raised an interesting point; that helping renovate the home was all well and good, but then what? When the group left, they left behind reconstructed walls, sinks and a staircase, but no knowledge or expertise with which the people there could use to redo what they just did if necessary.
To me, this situation is exactly like the “Give a man a fish…” adage that everyone is all too familiar with. When I think about missionary work, I know it helps others and is very good, but what if we aimed to do even better?
The twenty Canadians who went to Guyana in January practically broke their backs trying to improve the quality of life for those living in this seniors’ home, but what happens after they leave? What if something falls apart, breaks, becomes disheveled, or needs to be otherwise improved?
Our society is sending people to other countries to teach them to speak English, in an effort to improve their communication skills, and in turn their lives. No one is speaking for them, they’re instilling in them skills that they can use for the rest of their lives, and even pass onto others. What about other aspects of life or other professions?
Are Doctors Without Borders teaching third-world doctors new practices with which they can save even more lives? Are philanthropists providing knowledge with which third-world businesspeople can help improve their economy? Are tradesmen passing on the lessons they learned in their craft so that those in third-world countries can develop their own?
I recently took a writing and motivational course with Alexandra Franzen, during which she said something very interesting:
“My job, as a human being, is to do everything in my power to leave other people in better condition than I found them.”
Inspiring words. Not everyone has concern for their fellow man these days.
I would suggest that everyone try to adopt this practice, but to also take it a step further… In addition to improving someone’s life, do something that will have lasting results. Don’t just smile at someone, give them something to smile about. Don’t just learn new things from others, teach someone something new. In an effort to give someone something that they can take with them and use to improve their life again and again; give them a memory that lasts, advice that matters, or a compliment that goes further than just what they’re wearing today.
There’s writing out there that resonates with me, even long after I’ve read it. There are TED Talks that stick in my mind, even though the overall topic isn’t relevant to me. I can’t have that kind of influence on everyone every day, but it’s something worth striving for. If I fail, I can at least pass on to others that which has inspired me.
I encourage you to do the same.
Teach that man to fish.