Fr. Glenn: Teaching To Fish

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

“Adulting” classes. I heard about these on the internet the other day and that they are becoming increasingly popular for the younger generation—classes on how to cook, budgeting, balancing a checkbook, and the simple daily tasks that most of us old, ummm … “folks”… take for granted. What are these things but taking responsibility for oneself? Self-reliance.

Those of us raised in a farm/ranch setting learn “adulting” skills pretty early, being even as children responsible for the welfare of animals (and thus indirectly part of the welfare of the family) and learning how to make minor repairs to equipment. Later, such children—tutored by their elders—learn budgeting, about inevitable fluctuation of market prices for crops/livestock, maximizing value, the importance of work, dependability, timeliness, cooperative effort, etc. Indeed, my father spoke of his day when kids got a month off of school in the fall—not to recreate, but to work the fields to help bring in the family harvest, round up cattle, etc. Such participation and the solving “real world” everyday problems gives invaluable experience to develop common sense.

I used to witness such a lot in my former rural parish. The ranch youth were “jacks of all trades”, able to repair, ready and willing to do work, good problem solvers, etc. Many of the “city kids”… not so much.  They might be expert on video games, but even moving a few boxes might elicit groans as though they were called upon to build the pyramids.

In the specialization and compartmentalization of work in our day, cooperative team efforts among family members—and the vast amounts of life skills learned through such—has become largely absent, and so parents have to be more actively aware of creating and providing opportunities for their children to learn even those simply everyday things. For instance, changing a tire is now a lost skill with the advent of good roads, high quality tires, cellphones and AAA. But, especially here in New Mexico, where there are long lonely stretches (and even some without (gasp!) cellphone service), do you really want to leave your kids—young or not—at the mercy of whomever might just come along? 

Yes, parents … YOU are the primary educators of your children—a privilege that cannot be delegated to anyone else, whether it be schools, church … nobody. To love a child is to teach a child … to seek his/her welfare both now and when you will not be around. And in teaching them life skills you are not only becoming more virtuous in yourselves, but teaching them virtue as well in the sharing of knowledge.

For what IS virtue? Is it not the seeking of the good or benefit not only of self, but of another, and of maximizing benefit to society at large? And when we take the time to teach others useful, practical skills, that is exactly what we are doing … as well as teaching that person to pass on his own newly-gained knowledge to others. Notice how children often can’t wait to show off what they’ve learned from Mom or Dad—solving math problems (an extremely practical skill!), re-chaining a bicycle, a new cooking talent, using a tool properly, etc.     

Very often it just takes doing to get over youthful fearfulness, for the unknown is mysterious. To a young person who has never changed the car’s oil or tire … “What do I do? Which is the oil plug? What kind of oil? How tight the filter? What order and how tight the lug nuts?” But, when taught and accomplished even once, mystery vanishes along with uncertainty. Confidence in self grows: “Hey … I CAN do it!”

All of this falls under the “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime” rule. After all, which is the greater charity: giving a kid a cellphone and the number to AAA, or teaching him how to change a tire? Convenience is one thing, but life skills are another—essential when access to the convenient is not an option. Things break at the most inconvenient times, Murphy’s Law, assistance may be scarce, etc.

All of the above falls broadly, of course, under the virtue—that seeking the benefit of others—of charity and love … of sacrificing of one’s own time in order to provide for the welfare—both present and future—of others. In our distraction-laden world, it’s easy to be absorbed by the internet, media, entertainments, etc., of which there are no end. Work, too, can absorb us. So … put down that mouse, the clicker, or whatever, and find someone with whom you can share your experience. After all, the winner of the rat race is still a rat. But the one who teaches and helps others becomes the others’ angel whom they will remember for a lifetime.

St. Paul voices this principle often, as when he writes: “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor,” (1 Corinthians 10:24) and “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) And, of course, Jesus says of Himself—highlighting what should be the attitude of His disciples: “…the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve…” (Mark 10:45) And to teach others self-reliance and independence is one of the greatest services of all.