The Conscious Businessman, the Conscious Fisherman
The Fisherman and The Businessman Are Both Kinda Wrong (And Kinda Right)
There is a classic Brazilian story that acts as a critique on unexamined modernist assumptions—that growth is good for its own sake, or that that wealth and success are good because they lead to happiness. The parable serves a healthy and important function—to ask our success and growth oriented culture “what is the point? What are we growing for?” Too often we forget this question and lose track of what is really important in life.
Yet the parable does so without examining its own assumptions. By looking more deeply into it I think we can create an integration of these two ways of being that will lead to greater personal and social well-being.
The Fisherman and The Businessman
The story, in short form, goes like this:
A PhD in business management goes on a fishing vacation and is shocked to see the fisherman stop at midday when he’s caught enough to feed his family. He offers to help the fisherman become a more successful person, advising the fisherman to scale up: fish more, get more boats, set up his own company, franchise, go public, and retire rich.
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
To which the businessman replies, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman, puzzled, says “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”
The end implies a vision of “the good life,” which involves little stress or responsibility. The businessman and the fisherman both agree that such a life would be satisfying.
What Does it Mean to Live a Good Life?
What if it were not satisfying? What if it were, but there were other reasons to live or grow? Reasons like evolving personally and culturally, and improving the lives of others? What if Gandhi or Mother Teresa had decided to follow the fisherman’s lifestyle instead of being engaged in the world of markets and politics?
When You Retire, You Bring Your Idiosyncrasies With You
Furthermore, this rosy picture ignores the banal realities of human suffering—the hard work of quality relationships, the fact of death and disease, the challenges of emotional and existential pain, and so on.
The same things that stress us in work will stress us when we retire or live a life similar to retirement as the fisherman suggests he does. Maybe we will not find the exact same stresses in form, but we certainly will in content. For example, if an inconsiderate boss seems to be the source of our problems, when we quit, some other inconsiderate thing will take his/her place in our mind—whether it is the government, the Californians moving to Austin, our partner, or the dog peeing on the floor.
The Danger of Believing the Fisherman (Or the Businessman)
Of course the businessman ignores these things as well. But the danger of such a parable is that it invites us to transcend the businessman’s limitations without including the incredible value of what his type of thinking has produced. His thinking, as problematic as it can be, has also led to the curing of diseases, extending lifespan and quality of life, and the radical democratization of information, knowledge, and art through the internet—which builds upon modern society instead of throwing it out.
Another way to say this: Could the fisherman’s attitude, or the businessman’s idea of retirement, produce the infrastructure necessary to create and maintain the Internet?
An Integral Parable: The Conscious Businessman; the Conscious Fisherman
I reimagine the story in the following way.
The fisherman asks, “Why would I want to work harder when I already have what I want?”
The businessman replies, “It’s not about getting rich; its about building infrastructure, access, and communication for people to live richer, more meaningful lives.
There are people dying in your village of easily treatable diseases, simply because they cannot afford the medicine or don’t know it exists. You can provide that for them.
There are beautiful works of art, music, poetry, literature, and food that no one here has access to or even knows about. You can show them.
There is knowledge, wisdom, sports, and other joys in living that they do not even know they do not know exist. Their lives can be richer and have more meaning if you connect them to the rest of the world.
Furthermore, your villagers produce incredible art, music, dance, knowledge, and wisdom that is currently hidden from the rest of the world. Other people’s lives can be enlivened by knowing more of the people here. There’s joy in the exchange that has yet to be realized. You can help the village realize this.
On top of that, there are practices and processes that help people live more satisfied lives and build happier relationships. They come from all over the world. Some are new and some are as old as civilization, but they are being integrated and translated in a way that makes their benefits even easier to recognize. You could be learning or teaching these methods when you’re not fishing. Or you could incorporate them into your fishing company and improve people’s everyday lives while also giving them the means to support themselves and their families.”
Pretty different motivation. Now the fisherman might want to change his behavior and start building his business. The form looks the same but the content is vastly different.
The Ego Can Use Anything To Reinforce Fear and Contraction
This too can be misused. One could easily use this rationale to justify overworking, franchising, etc., and fail to include the beauty and truth of the fisherman’s perspective. One could accidentally get caught up in making money or growing and forget these deeper purposes. The fisherman’s point of view, like the businessman’s, is true but partial, and one could easily miss the partial truth by pretending that they are working hard for the sake of others when it is actually for themselves. [see Is Your Desire to Save the World Ruining Your Life?] Yet it is still worth trying.
It would be easy to fall into the trap that once one gets fabulously wealthy, they will be able to provide all of these things. But we can start having these things without fabulous wealth, and as we work towards spreading the benefits of modern society, we let our process model the end result.
Stay Connected to Purpose
The trick is to always stay connected to the deeper purpose, so that it permeates ALL of our actions, choices and relationships. It informs the actions and decisions of each person the fisherman employs and works with if he decides to grow, and it informs the way he drinks and plays guitar with his friends and family.
Thanks for this participating in this fishy attempt at integration, and let us know what you think.