A Fisherman and a Businessman

As I’m reading Justice: What’s the Right Thing to do? by Michael J. Sandel of Harvard University, I am reminded of a story a philosophy professor once shared with me. Maybe you’ve heard it.

The book, which is refreshingly non-persuasive in nature, is currently addressing Immanuel Kant’s notion of freedom as it relates to justice. Kant suggests that we often make choices seemingly of our own free will that are actually dependent upon desires we inherently possess. For example, I do not choose chocolate over strawberry because of my higher reasoning capacity but rather because I am programmed to prefer chocolate over strawberry. Kant places an importance on the motives behind our actions and as a “why, why, why?” type of individual myself, I now share this story…

A fisherman and a businessman meet on the beach. The fisherman is coming in with a net full of fish and beginning to head home when the businessman stops him. He asks the fisherman, “Why are you leaving now? There are many more fish to be caught.” The fisherman looks confused and responds, “Because I have enough fish here for me and my family.” The businessman urges the fisherman to return to the sea for if he did, he would then be able to catch additional fish to sell.

The fisherman asks, “Why should I sell fish?”

The businessman responds, “To earn a profit for you and your family.”

“My family has plenty to eat and a place to live, why should we need to earn more money?” asks the fisherman.

“So that you might be able to buy a bigger boat and hire other fisherman to catch even more fish,” replies the businessman.

“And what would I do with a bigger boat and more fish?” asks the fisherman.

“Why, you could buy a build a business that would bring you and your family to a big city like New York or LA, where you could run your empire,” replies the businessman.

“And how long will that take?” asks the fisherman.

“15-20 years,” replies the businessman.

“And what about after that? What would I do then?” asks the fisherman.

“Anything you wanted. You could live by the beach and spend your evenings resting.” responds the businessman.

The fisherman smiled, picked up his net and gently replied, “Sir, that is what I am going to do now.”

This story describes two kinds of success. Surely there are many more and surer still is the truth that no one is to judge any other’s notion of success. There will always be business people on their way to building empires. And good for them. As for me, I choose the path of the fisherman, as I quietly seek this thing we call happiness.

Vinoth Shankaran says, “The truth is you can succeed in anything, if success is not defined…”

How would you define it?

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