Monday, September 7, 2015

A Lesson of Life

More than two years ago, I was at my older son Hassan's university graduation ceremony. He was graduating with a chemical engineering degree from U Penn, an Ivy league school. Jon Youshaei, a U Penn student, went up to the podium to give a talk. It was probably the best speech given from that podium,  or at least for me it was something memorable. I still feel in my heart that I never heard such a lesson of wisdom from a 21-22 year old student. It is a gem!

Jon mentioned about the story of a rich western tourist and his dialogue with a fisherman in a remote scenic village. 

Yesterday, I asked Hassan about Jon and if he could trace Jon's story. As a smart and intelligent engineer, Hassan was promptly able to find the link to Jon's story. 

It is worth noting that Jon, an Iranian-American, was elected Class President for four consecutive years at U Penn, representing 2,500 students. I was also glad to find that Jon has become a very successful entrepreneur whose articles have appeared in prestigious magazines. 

Here below is a very similar story that Jon told. (Jon may have mentioned Costa Rico instead of Mexico; I can't recall.  However the place is immaterial to understand the crux of the story.) It is worth-sharing with all.
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The American Tourist and Mexican Fisherman
An American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.
Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The tourist complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, "Only a little while."
The tourist then asked, "Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"
The Mexican said, "With this I have more than enough to support my family's needs."
The tourist then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life."
The tourist scoffed, " I can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise."
The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"
The tourist replied, "15 to 20 years."
"But what then?" asked the Mexican.
The tourist laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."
"Millions?...Then what?"
The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."
"Well, I'm already doing all that."
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Yet another story with the same theme:
The Tale of the fisherman and the Tourist
A tourist looks on a most idyllic picture: a fisherman dozing in the sun in his rowing boat that he has pulled out of the waves which come rolling up the sandy beach. The tourist's camera clicks and the fisherman wakes. The tourist asks: “The weather is great and there's plenty of fish, so why are you lying around instead of going out and catching more?”The fisherman replies: “Because I caught enough this morning.”“But just imagine,” the tourist says, “you could go out there three or four times a day and bring home three or four times as much fish! And then you know what could happen?” The fisherman shakes his head. “After a year you could buy yourself a motorboat,” says the tourist. “After two years you could buy a second one, and after three years you could have a cutter or two. And just think! One day you might be able to build a freezing plant or a smoke house. You might eventually even get your own helicopter for tracing shoals of fish and guiding your fleet of cutters, or you could buy your own trucks to ship your fish to the capital, and then . . .”“And then?” asks the fisherman.“And then”, the tourist continues triumphantly, “you'd could spend time sitting at the beachside, dozing in the sun and looking at the beautiful ocean!” The fisherman looks at the tourist: “But that is exactly what I was doing before you came along!”

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So, what's the point running after wealth (or going after more) when you are enjoying it already? Can we be satisfied with the little we have?
Note: My Wikipedia search revealed that the original story is a short story by Heinrich Böll about an encounter between an enterprising tourist and a small fisherman, in which the tourist suggests how the fisherman can improve his life. It was written for a May Day program on the Norddeutscher Rundfunk in 1963, and is considered one of the best stories written by Heinrich Böll. The story, with its several adaptions, has been circulated widely on the Internet, and has been quoted in many books and scholarly papers. In one of the most popular versions, the tourist is an American (an MBA from Harvard in some versions), and the fisherman is Mexican. [And this is the story relayed above.]
The story is also part of the syllabi of several universities. It is often quoted in texts that discuss the relationship between money and happiness, and has been included in textbooks teaching the German language.
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The story is set in an unnamed harbor on the west coast of Europe. A smartly-dressed enterprising tourist is taking photographs when he notices a shabbily dressed local fisherman taking a nap in his fishing boat. The tourist is disappointed with the fisherman's apparently lazy attitude towards his work, so he approaches the fisherman and asks him why he is lying around instead of catching fish. The fisherman explains that he went fishing in the morning, and the small catch would be sufficient for the next two days.
The tourist tells him that if he goes out to catch fish multiple times a day, he would be able to buy a motor in less than a year, a second boat in less than two years, and so on. The tourist further explains that one day, the fisherman could even build a small cold storage plant, later a pickling factory, fly around in a helicopter, build a fish restaurant, and export lobster directly to Paris without a middleman.
The nonchalant fisherman asks, "Then what?"
The tourist enthusiastically continues, "Then, without a care in the world, you could sit here in the harbor, doze in the sun, and look at the glorious sea."
"But I'm already doing that", says the fisherman.
The enlightened tourist walks away pensively, with no trace of pity for the fisherman, only a little envy.

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