Context: I asked my friend if he knew any proverbs for my folklore collection, and he told me this one that was very famous in Asia and that there are many translations that have the same idea. He said that he has heard the same proverb in both Korean and Chinese from his parents and that they use it often when teaching him the conceptual explanation behind a problem and not just the answer.
Roman Phonetic: “Shou ren yi yu bu ru shou ren yi yu”
- Transliterated Proverb:
- shou: give
- ren: person
- yi: to
- yu (鱼): fish (noun)
- Bu ru: not as good as
- yu (渔): to fish (verb)
Full Translation: This means giving a person a fish is not as good as giving them the knowledge to fish.
Explanation: The meaning behind this proverb is to say that providing for someone or doing something for them is not as good as teaching them how to provide or to do that thing for themselves, as this will help them more in the long run. Giving someone a fish will satiate their hunger for a bit, but when they are hungry you will still have to give them more fish. However, if you teach them how to fish, they can always find a way to get food when they are hungry, and that is much more valuable.
Thoughts: I found the proverb to speak a lot of truth, as it is applicable to many cases in one’s life. The proverb can refer to teaching someone the concept of math and not the answer to a math problem, or greater life skills in general. Its applications are pretty much limitless. I also found it interesting that the same proverb existed across many different ethnic groups, and also recently found out that there is actually an English equivalent to the proverb that also has to do with fishing. It also demonstrates the core values in my friend’s family, as I’ve always known him to be hardworking and looking past the simple answers to questions in life and towards the bigger picture explanations, skills, and concepts.