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A boat docked in a tiny Mexican seacoast village. An American visitor 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 ample 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 a little longer, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I walk down to the village to see my friends, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…. I have a full life.”

The American interrupted, “Listen, 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. 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 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 enterprise.”

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

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.

“And after that?” asked the Mexican.

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

“Millions? Really?” remarked the Mexican. “And after that?”

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


* This story uses two fictional characters, an American and a Mexican, to represent two common approaches to life and work and what would be seen as success. One is based on aggressive participation in an expanding market economy, the other is based on small-scale employment with sustainable use of resources. We are not singling out Americans or Mexicans here. Rather, these two philosophies to work and living life are found in societies around the world, not only in America and Mexico. These fictional characters could just as easily have been a Canadian entreprenuer and an Aboriginal trapper, a German industrialist and a village farmer, etc.

Also, we are not suggesting by this story that today’s highly technological, post-industrialist world should or even could return to the simple “good old days” when many people fished and farmed, days which in fact, were not that great in many respects. Rather, the intent of the story is make us reflect on how foolish, how unethical, and ultimately how destructive is the first approach.