“A pious man explained to his followers: ‘It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. “Don’t be scared,” I tell those fishes. “I am saving you from drowning.” Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes.”
― Amy Tan, Saving Fish from Drowning
This quote was brought up in a class, and I had so many reactions to it, that it took me a couple of days to sort it all out.
First- As someone who is working to help make the world a better place (I am a social worker!), this is a remarkable demonstration of how so many organizations go into a place and start “saving” people. They give them all the aid they can handle and they never ask what the community actually needs. Did we stop to think what use a hotel size bottle of shampoo would be to a person when we were sending them to Haiti? Or did we just unload and thank god it was so convenient to help people. They ignore the desires and talents and needs of the community and they impose their own expectation and vision onto them. I am as guilty as anyone else of convenient giving. The giving that serves my pocket and my ideals and my vision. But true, lasting, life-saving help is not convenient, and it has nothing to do with what I think is best for someone from another culture and experience. This irritates me more than I can say. To some extent, I think missionary work is guilty of this. Which leads to my next reaction…
Oh religion, religion, religion. Why do we expect so much of a man made construct. And in this quote I see so many of the problems with religious organizations. Now, let me be clear. I am specifically talking about the Church (big C), as an organization, the same way you would talk about the UN or United Way. The organization and man made, man lead agenda of the Church is probably the beginning of the end when it comes to keeping believers within the faith. I would hazard a guess that the Church has often been the reason people leave, or the reason they stay away. Because like this well meaning pious man in the quote, they blunder about doing their best to impose their ideas on others with no idea about what those others really want. And they never stop to wonder why they keep killing off fish, they never stop to educate themselves about the people they are trying to convert. They just keep fishing them out and leaving them there to gasp for breath.
Ignorance is irritating. But willful ignorance is not to be borne. This man may have been pious, but he was also ignorant. And willfully so.