There once was an old fisherman who lived a very simple life. He was retired and did not have much, but he had everything he needed. He had his fishing pole, a few spare makeshift poles, a can of bait which he replenished often and a strong desire to help others. Everyone in his local community knew that if you did not have a meal you could approach the local fisherman, who would teach you to fish, fish alongside you and share a meal from the catch of the day with you on the dock of his boathouse. One day a young boy approached him, he was hungry and had nothing. The fisherman was exhausted and spent himself. He had spent the entire week teaching others to fish and gifting them the poles they had used. He had also given away all the fish he had caught for himself. It was approaching dinnertime and he had nothing left but his own professional fishing pole.
When a poor boy approached him with a bloated belly and tears brimming in his eyes the fisherman decided to do something he had promised himself he never would. He gifted the young boy his very own professional fishing pole. The young boy went away smiling and skipping, he still had no fish in his belly and did not know how to fish, but he had a shiny pole which had served as a great distraction for the moment. The fisherman went to bed hungry that night. His last waking thought as his stomach growled and his head span was that he forgot to show the boy how to use the fishing pole and had no fish left in his cooler to cook for dinner or breakfast. The old fisherman woke up to a line of people outside his boathouse. Everyone had arrived empty handed and empty-stomached. They were hungry and wanted lessons and fish.
With hunger pangs in his own stomach the old fisherman searched his boathouse frantically. He realized he had run out of bait, run out of sticks, run out of twine and also his professional fishing pole was gone. He could not give out lessons, he could not give out fish, he could not give out anything. He stood on the dock and announced to everyone that there was nothing he could do. Some faces were familiar while others were brand new, addressing the crowd of twenty-odd people he solicited their help. “Please help me collect long straight sticks, twine from the hardware store if anyone has some spare change and worms from the river bank. I have run out of supplies and fish too.” Grumbling and murmuring rippled through the crowd who soon dispersed with no definite promises regarding the requested assistance.
As the old fisherman scanned the crowd looking for a sympathetic face he noticed the little boy he had helped the night before. He beckoned him over with a smile and a wave. “Young man, I am really happy to see you. Please give me back the fishing pole I gave you last night, let me catch us all some breakfast.” The young boy looked confused and still hungry. “Sir it broke,” he explained with a whimper. He dug into his threadbare pockets and brought out a few broken unrecognizable pieces of wood and metal. Both the hook and the string were missing. “I was playing cowboys and Indians Sir,” the boy further explained to the bewildered face of the fisherman. The fisherman let out a deep sigh as the realization that he had made a terrible mistake in giving away his work tool, all his spare rods, all his time and all his resources and now he was hungry, helpless and exhausted. Truly what they said was true, you cannot pour from an empty cup. He also realized his error in giving away valuables to someone who does not have the capacity to value them – this only serves to deplete what you have and can never add any long-lasting value to their life or yours. The professional fishing pole in the hands of an untrained child was only a distraction, then a toy, then trash; yet to the fisherman it was his livelihood and lifeline to others.
In order to help others we must be in a state to make rational decisions. We must be wise in the type of help we choose to render. We must remember to value ourselves and ensure we are not being aimlessly self sacrificial in ways that benefit no one. After all, even in the event of an emergency we are instructed to put on our oxygen masks that drop from the ceiling in front of us before helping anyone else. In the event of a water landing we are warned to put on our life vests that are under the seats in front of us before helping anyone else, even infants, even children, even the elderly, even someone who is notably sick or injured. Why? Because realistically we do more harm than good when we do not secure the safety of the position from which we are helping others. We cannot help anyone else if we endanger ourselves. It is hard to be a victor when we neglect ourselves to the point where we become a victim.
Think about it, if you are struggling to breathe how many people will you be helpful to? If you are traveling with your children and you do not take that one minute to secure your own life vest or put on your own oxygen mask, you might faint or drown or (insert another horrible consequence) and then you will be unable to lead them, guide them, carry them and ensure their safety. So even though you might be willing to sacrifice your life for theirs, you are better off securing yours first and being around to ensure theirs to the best of your ability. There is a realistic element to self love – it is not selfish, it is essential and ensures the sustainability of who you are and what you have.
The most recent adage that advises people to love themselves is ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup.’ This is self explanatory. When you pour out all of your time, energy and resources you have nothing left to fuel yourself or to give to another. No matter how selfless and thoughtful you are, without a consciousness of self you will end up empty. The Bible instructs us to “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.” It is the golden commandment, which highlights the importance of esteeming and loving others, and even it has an inherent command to love ourselves. If we do not know how to love ourselves, how then can we properly love others? Even if you are teaching others to fish and hoping to provide sustainable support, if you give away your fishing pole what will you use to teach them with? Empowering others is wonderful, however in realistic situations when you overexert yourself you have no power left to empower. Love yourself too, love yourself correctly and you can love others too.