Giving Out Hands Ups, Not Handouts

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach that man to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”

This has always been one of my favorite parables/stories…and for a man who likes parables, that is saying a lot. We live in a contemporary society that allows improved access to many things, as long as you have the means to get it. The trouble is, when one no longer has the means, things seem less glamorous and easily accessible in this contemporary utopia.

The thing that grinds my ears about our current societal structure is this underlying sense of entitlement that exists. Some people are always looking more for handouts or quick fixes to problems than hand-ups as a way to move forward and no longer face those stressful situations in the first place.

Here’s one of my favorite stories to this end:

A man sits on a deserted island and notices that the tide is rising and threatens to sink the island and drown him. He prays to God for deliverance. A few minutes later, a raft stops by the island. The people on the raft ask him to climb on board. He questions the seaworthiness of the raft and declines, saying “God will save me”. He climbs to higher ground as the waters continue to rise. He spots a boat offshore. They people on the boat call out to him, encouraging him to swim out to the boat. The man declines, pointing at the sharks in the water as his reason to stay put. “God will save me,” he says. The waters continue to rise and he is forced to climb into the highest tree around. Suddenly, a helicopter appears. They lower a rope but cannot get close enough. “Jump on and we will catch you” the pilot says. “If I miss I will drown!” the man replies. He declines their help.  “God will save me!” he shouts as the helicopter flies away.

The sea water rises, covering the island and drowning the man. When he gets to Heaven’s gates, he sees God standing in the entrance.

“My God!” he screams, “why did you forsake your servant who cried out for help in a time of need?”

“I sent you a raft, boat and a helicopter,” God replies, “yet you choose not to accept deliverance when it was offered to you.”

Now many Church folks will take it to a different place, but I always liked that story because it showed what the difference between hand ups and handouts. There are never any easy way outs in life. Many of us have to work for what we have, sometimes too hard. Many of the celebs or other sustained rich folks put in serious work behind the scenes to achieve their status. Still, what is often sold to us in the media is that easy money, easy access, super flashy, fast-paced type life style.

On the flip side, there is the debate about too many “hand outs” when it comes especially to government-funded endeavors. Some people in the US often talk about welfare as if it is a crutch that is almost always abused by those who have access to it. Truth be told, some of the folks on welfare were hard-working folks who through illness or some other significant displacement are not able to contribute and take care of themselves as they used to. I guess I am biased to think that it is important to have a safety net in place – not everyone has family or adequate additional support who can step in and help them out in difficult times like that. There have been many folks who have used “welfare” to get them through tough times and are back on their feet, handling their business.

At the end of the day, most people value knowing where to turn to get true help. No question, we all will need a hand up from time to time. Still, it is that true spirit of community in both helping someone up and teaching them to stay on their feet is what makes humans, at their best, the most transformative creatures on the planet.



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