The Fisherman’s Lesson

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Recently, I decided to take an exploratory class on cross cultural societies at Central Oregon Community College. To my surprise, this interesting topic reflected different cultural attitudes towards abundance and, in this case, sufficiency. As my class instructor diverged to a conversation about ancient and modern symbols he picked up a wooden statue of an African man carrying what appeared to be fishing equipment. He informed us that this statue was an African symbol representing sufficiency. The symbol represented neither poverty nor wealth but a knowing that everything that is needed is always provided. By definition, sufficiency is the state or quality of being sufficient or with adequate supplies, ability, numbers, or resources; especially, an adequate but not luxurious scale of living.

The concept of only having enough is somewhat obscure in our western culture particularly since we are constantly bombarded with competitive advertising carefully crafted to create a need. Bumper stickers such as “He who dies with the most toys wins” or sweatshirts that tout “Shop till you drop” are simple reflections of our western attitudes towards abundance and consumption. A friend once said, “Wanting something more is what keeps me feeling alive – it’s stretching to acquire what I want and then once I have it looking to see what’s next!”

Does wanting more create unnecessary stress in our already busy and complex lives or are our lives better because we continue to strive for more? At what point do we decide we have acquired enough? We are such good consumers of the constant barrage of advertising and marketing, convincing us that we need more, that we sometimes buy beyond our physical space and fiscal capacity. Our homes overflow; we rent a storage space to accommodate our abundant possessions, so we can continue to buy something more. According to ISS International, there are over 30,000 storage facilities throughout the United States and is considered to be one of the fastest growing sectors of real estate development.

The realization of sufficiency may also be a generational phenomenon. I’ve noticed that in our twenties we tend to live more carefree lives and not as burdened by the need for “things.” We are busy discovering ourselves, questioning our existence and place in life. These questions for many of us begin to diminish as we make a stand in our 30’s and our focus shifts to consumption, child rearing, mortgage payments and status quo. For some of us, we begin the material search for what makes us significant in the world. We begin our collection of status symbols – maybe a larger home; better car; bigger toys etc.

In our forties, we begin to think, and worry about not having saved enough money for our future retirement. Interestingly, this may often trigger a return to the inner search of our youth as the concept of our mortality begins to set in. I’ve heard over the years from friends and acquaintances that it is more common in our fifties to stop caring as much about what people think than ever before in our lives and then in our sixties we begin the paring down process such as selling the big family home.

Our lives appear to be defined by our constant need for what’s next for our next “want”. How is our striving to have more affecting future generations? What legacy are we leaving for them? What is it that eludes us in our quest for more? Is it the new ad campaign convincing us that we must have the new and improved gizmo? Are we a statistical consumer with spending habits for marketers to define, and if so, when do we take control of our impulses and our financial health? Too often people throughout the many stages of their life are at the affect of very creative marketing strategies that we consume much more than we can handle.

The fisherman representing sufficiency teaches a valuable lesson for all of us. It is a simpler path he follows, providing for himself and his family through his own hand and within his own means. It brings to mind the idea of what life might be like if we could get control of our consumption, prioritize out of this perpetual cycle of “more is better” and learn to live within our means and without debt? Perhaps, abundance is then a natural procession, like that of the fisherman of sufficiency.


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