It can be more beneficial in the long run to teach a person how to do something than to do that something for them.
The full proverb (though the wording does vary) goes like this: ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’
The Origin Of ‘Give a Man a Fish’
Teaching a person a useful skill can be more beneficial in the long run than filling a need for them temporarily, that’s basically the meaning of this proverb. So, for example, if you give a hungry man a fish then his hunger will be satisfied, but only for a short time. If, instead, the man were taught how to fish, then he could eat whenever he got hungry. Well, assuming he is able to catch a fish whenever he wanted to.
Anyway, how old is this phrase? It is at least 120 years old because it appears in a book from the late 19th century. More specifically, a writer named Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie wrote the saying down in a novel of hers called Mrs. Dymond, published in 1885:
“He certainly doesn’t practise his precepts, but I supposed the Patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.”
Anne Ritchie (quoted above) is credited as the one who coined this phrase.
- My friend Brian orders takeout food almost every day because he doesn’t know how to cook. Doing this for so long has burned a hole in his wallet. So I decided to give the man a fish (figuratively speaking) by teaching him how to cook.