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Give a Man a Fish...

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Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

A Stock Aesop and Stock Phrase. By now, parodied or twisted at least as often as used straight.

Examples In Fiction:

Anime & Manga

  • Used incorrectly in Negima! by Asuna while fishing.
    If you teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a day, but if you give him a fish he'll just eat a bunch of fish!


  • Dilbert: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will buy a silly hat. And if you talk to hungry people about fishing, you are a consultant."
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  • Superman: In the story "Peace on Earth", Superman tries to end world hunger by delivering food to impoverished places, but is met with resistance everywhere he goes and the food is eventually poisoned by a government that doesn't want his interference. He then remembers his adoptive father Jonathan Kent teaching him this quote. At the end, he is shown as Clark Kent teaching children how to farm.


Live-Action Television

  • Parks and Recreation:
    • Ron Swanson: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Don't teach a man to fish, and you feed yourself. He's a grown man. Fishing's not that hard".
    • The Leader of the "Kaboom" playground-building team: "Take a man to Kabooming, and he Kabooms. Teach a man to Kaboom, and KABOOM KABOOM KABOOM!!".
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  • Quoted by Archer in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Mauraders", when deciding the best way to protect a colony of miners from being bullied regularly by a group of Klingons is to teach them how to stand up for themselves.
  • Arrested Development: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish..." "... and he'll want to use your yacht, and I don't want this thing smelling like fish."
  • The Booze Traveler on learning how to make Austrian pastries: "You know what they say - feed a man a pastry, he'll eat for a day... but teach him how to bake, and he's... gonna gain weight."
  • Young Hercules: The episode "Cold Feet" had Jason do this for a farming community he visited. They're regularly under threat from a group of bandits; past attempts to fight back have gone poorly, and the local government ignores their requests for help. There are too many bandits for Jason to fight alone, but he feels he's gotta do something. He offers to teach volunteers fighting moves he learned at Cheiron's academy, saying they have to do this for themselves and their loved ones. Many rally around him, but Pelia is critical. She points out Jason's just passing through and doesn't have to live with the consequences if things go wrong. Fortunately, things do work out.

Video Games

  • Minecraft:
    • Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll stand at the top of a cliff, whisk pigs off the ground, and snipe them out of the air.
    • On the subject of how incredibly addictive Minecraft can be:
      "I have heard [Gabriel] suggest that the game is crack, but it's more like all of the ingredients and equipment that you need to make crack, which I'd say is worse."
  • As said by Minsc in Baldur's Gate, after giving money to a beggar:
    "You should have given him a sword! Give a man a fish and he feeds himself for a day. Give a man a sword, and he can chow down on the meaty marrow of evil!"
  • Parodied with the Pandaren in World of Warcraft
    "Teach a man to fish, and he is fed for a day. Uh, no, uh...he is fed. I...I messed it up, but we just make this stuff up anyway."
  • Parodied in Fable II in a loading screen. Teach a man to fish, and he'll stink up the whole town.
  • Parodied with one of the "pearls of wisdom" dispensed by Beatrix Russell in Fallout: New Vegas:
    "Feed a man for free. He'll be back asking for more. Feed a man a bullet. You won't hear from him again."

Web Comics

  • Schlock Mercenary: Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.
    Maxim 21: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Take his fish away and tell him he's lucky just to be alive, and he'll figure out how to catch another one for you to take tomorrow.
  • The alt-text of this XKCD says "Give a man a fish, or he will destroy the only remaining vial of antidote."
  • Lola And Mr Wrinkles: Namedropped in the "Randall the bone thief" story arc. Lola and Mr. Wrinkles express doubt whether Brutus can get Hugo to stand up to Randal. The cat suggests Brutus could take care of the problem himself. In answer, Brutus uses the expression...and absolutely confuses Lola.
  • The Order of the Stick here. The title of that day's strip is, "Technically, the 'Fish' Version is a Subset of This One."
    Belkar: Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime!
  • From This El Goonish Shive B-Side Comics strip: "Couldn't you just give me a fish?"
  • Parodied in DM of the Rings: Give a player a fish, and he’ll probably try to sell it to an NPC fisherman. Teach a player to fish, and next week he’ll show up with the book, “The Complete Adventuring Fisherman”. He’ll start hunting for some monstrous leviathan to catch and enslave, and he’ll be dual-wielding two fishing poles.
  • Mountain Time: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Give a man some worms and you feed the fish, too.

Real Life/Other Examples

  • Straight example: This trope is the reason why Heifer International exists. They donate livestock and plants to poor families around the world, as well as train them. In fact, this started when Dan West, the founder, was giving milk to refugee children and then thought that giving cows would be a better idea.
  • Jason Love's Snapshots — the Robin Hood cartoon.
  • Jackie Kashian gave us the salesman's version: "Give a man a fish, and that man knows where to come for fish. Teach a man to fish, and you've just destroyed your market base. What the hell is wrong with you?"
  • There's an unusual twist on one floating around the internet: Give a fish a fish, and you introduce the concept of slavery to an entire species. Teach a fish to fish, and you make him a mythical, nightmarish murderer feared by his own kind.
  • Or, "give a man a fish, and make it illegal to teach fishing".
  • There's another version, source also unknown, although somewhat well-spread across the internet, that goes like this: "Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will dragnet the bottom of the ocean floor, dump 90% of what he catches as unmarketable, pollute the skies with greasy black smoke from his fish canning factories, wipe out the various species of fish that he has been exploiting, devastate the ecosystem, process his dead into Human Resources, fall into a deadly downward spiral of food-riots and warfare, blow up the planet, and be succeeded on the top of the food-chain by cockroaches."
  • Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll sit in your boat and drink all your beer.
  • Quoth Jeremy Keith, on his book Bulletproof Ajax: "Give someone a fish and they’ll think you’re a bit of weirdo; teach someone how to fish and they’ll wonder what fishing has got to do with web design."
  • A joke/variation accredited to wives both happy and annoyed:
    "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you get him out of the house on the weekend."
  • Michael Plait is a proponent of the "teach a man to fish" paradigm and offered this gem at TAM 8:
    "Teach a man to reason and he'll think for a lifetime."
  • UDM President Bantu Holomisa tried to use this quote on live TV. Oh, how he tried.

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