Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Mexican Fisherman

An American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.

Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The tourist complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, "Only a little while."

The tourist then asked, "Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"

The Mexican said, "With this I have more than enough to support my family's needs."

The tourist then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life."

The tourist scoffed, " I can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise."

The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"
The tourist replied, "15 to 20 years."

"But what then?" asked the Mexican.

The tourist laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."

"Millions?...Then what?"

The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."

I came across this a few weeks ago and have been meaning to put it here, for my own reference if nothing else. This story elegantly illustrates one of the fundamental problems of the collective American psyche – the over-emphasis of material and financial “success”. More is always better. As one person put it: We live to work, they work to live.

One of the great things about America is that each individual is free to determine their own personal values and choose how they want to live their life. What’s so interesting is how little variation there actually is when it comes to those values and lifestyle choices. Our cookie cutter idea of success is so pervasive that the entire culture seems to be built around the acquisition of stuff and money. We express our unique, rugged individuality by pursuing the exact same goals as everyone else and conspicuously consuming the same products.

It’s worth noting that a population willing to work ever longer hours, sacrifice their personal relationships, time with family, and opportunities to pursue other areas of human development chasing this pre-packaged ideal, works out very conveniently for the ultra-wealthy business owner and executive class. In short, people who can never have enough make for great employees. The carrot and stick approach is a fabulous way to get the most out of your human capital. Sadly, it can easily be observed that even when people do achieve this very narrowly defined version of success they are still just as discontent as before, often even more so. This myth about what is supposed to make us happy and what we are supposed to be is probably one of the greater ills of our time.


Anonymous said...

I loved the story Ben and your comments are so true.
I once read a sf short story (not sure by whom) but it went that the ultra rich were the only ones who had the where-with-all to live the style of the fisherman in your story.
The rest of us were too busy earning and consuming to ever be wealthy enough to live in such manner.
The story was very influential on my life.
Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

And one is most often judged harshly for not wanting and valuing these things that are in the future. it's considered pathological ( future or planning averse) to want to just be here now. Chasing the good life-what a scam.

Thanks for this,

Ben There said...

Tony, There is a great book that was published a year or two ago called "Stop Acting Rich And Start Living Like A Real Millionaire". It's based on extensive empirical research (there are a couple of other by the same author published over the last 10 years, "The Millionaire Mind", etc) and the basic premise is that most people will never be able to build any significant wealth because they spend all of their money trying to emulate rich people. Basically because in the US, you can get almost anything for a monthly payment. It's laced with great statistics like "89% of the people who drive a Mercedes Benz are not millionaires". That series of books, expecially the one published 10-12 years ago called "The Millionaire Mind" has been very influential in my life.


Agreed...The here and now is most commonly just viewed as a means to an end. And I've personally experienced reactions of disbelief from a couple of family/friends when I indicate my interest in spending time on things other than finding ways to make more money; or even worse (as recently happened), willfully passing up an opportunity to earn more income.

Chasing the good life is indeed quite the scam and you see it everywhere.

covkid said...

Lovely post Ben,
Unfortunately you can see this disease rife throughout every city in every country on the planet.Mindless pursuit of material trinketry is all the rage,and only a shift in ones conciousness and its mergence with all that is, can cure it.But this is lost on most of the worlds population.
George Carlin sums it up perfectly;"They call it the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it"Hmmmm.


Ben There said...

Hi Covkid,

You're right. This attitude is pervasive throughout the world, although it might could be argued that in the very poor countries people are forced to learn to be content with a simple, non-materialistic life. I have no doubt that given enough exposure to our relentless advertising, etc, any of Earth's citizens could be transformed into consumer zombies.

I pick on the US alot because I live here and am immersed in it.

Love the Carlin quote...

Keifus said...

Hmm, I suppose it's a good thing he wasn't feeding his family bananas. That story played out in central America a hundred years ago. It seems sort of out of character for the rat-racers to leave that kind of richness undistrubed.

Well, it's not like I can get out of my role in it. I'm not bitter!

Keifus said...

...I also don't have much faith in locals to leave that kind of richness undisturbed, but I do like the story as a lesson in what's valuable. I don't need to be such a downer about it.

Interestingly, this was on the local news yesterday. I dunno if the study is any good, or anything like the noozies make it out to be, but from the reporting, it seems to support your view.

You might like this book.

Ben There said...

Hi Keifus,

"Affluenza" (and related topics) is an area of interest for me; partly because of increasing empirical evidence like that study you linked, but mostly because of personal experience and observation. The anecdotal evidence sure seems to suggest that less is more (after a certain level of material security and comfort). I find that I'm becoming a bit of a crusader on this topic.

Your timing on the book recommendation could not be better. I just finished Thom Hartmann's "Unequal Protection" two days ago and was on the hunt for new reading material. I'm all over the Eduardo Galeano book, and I'll get it from your Amazon link!

I've read a number of your reviewed and recommended books and have yet to be disappointed. (Which is saying alot because I really don't think there are that many worthwhile ones out there.)

Thanks for dropping by. I hear BOTF is going away. That has to be kind of bittersweet as that place seemed to be quite the online community for alot of you.

Keifus said...

Cool. It reads like about 200 of those short Mexican fisherman stories.

Yeah, I heard that too. I think the forum actually died like three years or so ago.


Anonymous said...

Les used to unravel on the Frey.
I didn't think it was any good for him and said so.
On his own blogs the back and forth is not as... spirited but it's better for him – I think.
He used to get some vitriol from that community.