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Shared Treasures

Keeping the Goal in Mind: The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman

Click here to skip straight to the parable about the Mexican fisherman.

It is all too easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks and worries and forget what you are aiming to achieve, in the big picture.

Like an explorer aiming to get to a specific mountain, the goal may be clear at one point. But once you are in the forest of daily living, you cannot see the mountain. Difficult terrain can distract you and set you off course. To get to where you want to go you need to make an effort to regularly ensure that you’re heading in the right direction; lest you get lost in the forest and end up in the wrong place.

Therefore, on a regular basis, I review my life and ask myself:
– What is by big-picture goal?
– What am I achieving by doing what I am currently doing?
– Am I headed in the right direction?
– Even if I am, could I be doing something else with my time to get there through a better route?

There is a parable that embodies this point of view and which I try to read often. I hope you find as insightful as I do.

The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman

An American businessman was on a vacation from his busy life in a Mexican coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.

The American complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs… I have a busy and full life.”

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?” asked the Mexican.

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.

Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.

You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

“Twenty, perhaps 25 years,” replied the American.

“And after that?” the Mexican asked.

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?”

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

Source: Some say the author is unknown; others that it was written by the German writer Heinrich Böll. Whoever wrote it, it was not me. Note: This is one of the many versions I have found on the internet.

Clearly the businessman has something to learn from the fisherman, as what he is suggesting will add a tremendous amount of work, only to end up where the fisherman already is. And I suspect he’s not the only one.

Oh, how easy it is to lose track of where we want to be and where we are headed. Ultimately, I think it is impossible to always keep the big-picture goal in mind. The day-to-day is simply too full of distractions. This, however, is why it is so important to remember to make a self-assessment a regular part of our routine. For me, the story above helps me remember to check my heading and realign my

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A Pale Blue Dot: Our World In Less Than a Pixel

I recently happened upon this picture our Pale Blue Dot (i.e. Earth) and its accompanying passage from Carl Sagan’s eponymous book. On Sagan’s request, the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned around as it was leaving our solar system, taking one final look at the planet from whence it came – the planet we all call home.

From 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away our entire world is but a mere dot. Earth is barely visible in the rightmost ray of sunlight. Yes, that’s it — all you’ve ever known.

Pale Blue Dot of Earth.
The Pale Blue Dot of Earth. Taken February 14, 1990 by Voyager 1. NASA / JPL

From Sagan’s Book:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994