Teach a Boy to Fish

By | August 14, 2019

[August 14, 2019]  My trip to a Boy Scout Campout gave me a new respect for what young boys do and what they think.  The job of adult leaders at the camp was clear;1 they were to teach boys to stand on their own feet and to be valuable young adults.  One of the first things they learn is that there are no “participation trophies” in life.

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Maimonides, medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher

The quote by Maimonides above was modified on a sign at the scout camp (the thumbnail for this article).  When we communicate important messages, the leader must do so in such a way that understanding is gained through action.  Adult leaders in scouting – any leader – show young boys (and now also girls) how to gain their independence, how to set and achieve life goals, and how to act properly in the company of others.

Seeing young boys learning the skills that will benefit them throughout their lifetime is down-right exciting.  You can see it in their eyes.  It’s like an awakening for them as if a veil has come off the darkness.  They learn to give a helping hand to others, but they also learn that they should not be so compassionate that they stifle the dignity of others.

“You cannot give dignity to a man.  Dignity is already the inherent right of a man to be valued through his independence.” – Anonymous

Scouts learn by doing.  I was sitting at our campsite talking with other adult leaders when a first-year boy scout came running up to tell us the news that he had caught a 7-pound Northern Pike while fishing off the banks of the lake.  Later we discovered that he won the fishing competition and had beaten his father’s fishing attempts 20 years earlier also as a young scout.  This first-year scout had heard about his dad’s scouting adventures for his entire life, and now he had a fish story to tell to everyone.

Teaching independent thinking and critical life skills is something that is hard to describe.  The idea that we teach people to become independent is the basis of any well-functioning society and what separates those who struggle from those who succeed.  I enjoyed my time at Boy Scout Summer Camp because we succeeded in our mission to teach boys to “fish.”


1.      Other than keeping everyone safe.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

25 thoughts on “Teach a Boy to Fish

  1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Really good article and a great lesson.

  2. Max Foster

    This is why we tell leaders not to micromanage or do it yourself. Teach people the right way of doing things and they will surprise you how well they can perform. Do it for them and most will stand back and let you do it. But, they cannot learn if you do it for them. That is why ‘helicopter parenting’ does not work. Resilience is best achieved by making mistakes and falling down. The real test is whether you get back up and keep going.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Generally, schools in America do not teach students to be focused, hard-working, and dependable. If they do, some call them racists, homophobes, etc. Sad. I”m glad that I do not teach students.

    2. Ed Berkmeister

      I think too many leaders may have missed that lesson, Max. Well said.

  3. Danny Burkholder

    ‘Teach a boy to fish’ … great title.

    1. Georgie M.

      We need to be teaching not just boys but also young men also how to behave and survive well in the world. Today, it looks like we encourage them to be failures, victims, and wimpy!

  4. Bryan Lee

    Appreciate some background info on scouting in the US. These are the skills young men need today more than ever. They also need to see that there are others like them and men like you who know how to behave, work hard, lead others, and are able to make good judgments and decisions. Thanks.

  5. Janna Faulkner

    I think we can say here that this is the kind of article we enjoy. Practical, entertaining, and useful. Thanks Gen. Satterfield.

  6. Anita

    Gen. Satterfield, please keep working with these young boys and teaching them how to “fish.” I would hope more mature adult men would do this.

  7. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Great article. I’ll be sharing it with my High School classes today. I’ve tried to make this point and while the students “get it,” I don’t think the other teachers do. The teachers like to reward students with money for just showing up. Our crazy principle is a woman in her 30s without any experience in life. SHe developed a number of policies that will soon be seen as unworkable.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Continue to stand up to those who experiment on our children and that we don’t approve.

      1. Greg Heyman

        I agree. We support you Mr. Asper. Please continue to teach and coach. It saddens me to read things like this.

    2. Walter H.

      Hang in there, Mr. TJ. We need more people like you who are willing to teach kids how to think and take care of themselves instead of looking at themselves as members of a victim group deserving of everyone’s pity.

  8. Army Captain

    Good points in your article. I’m starting to see more young men entering the US Army that “don’t know how to fish.” They have been given their “fish” all their lives and now do not have the skills or motivation to do something about it.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Sad. Our military is starting to pick up young folks who don’t know how to do much.

    2. Eric Coda

      I agree with Dale that it is, indeed, sad to see this happening to our military. It reminds me of the time the Iranian Navy captured one of our patrol boats (during Obama’s time in office) and some of our sailors cried. So sad.

      1. AutisticTechie

        I remember the incident and Pres Obama and the US Navy did nothing about it except APOLOGIZE. Leadership begins at the top and Obama was present but not a leader; he was a community activist and in the real world that means you are a pimple on society’s ass.

        1. JT Patterson

          Autistic Techie, you are just too much. Tell us what you think! 🙂

  9. Dennis Mathes

    Yes, teach a boy to fish and he will become a man with dignity and the focus to do the right thing. Teach a boy to be a victim and you will get a feminine man who plays video games in his parent’s basement.

    1. Kenny Foster

      I think you have hit something important here, Dennis. This might just explain the snowflake men we see on college campuses. But how do you explain the snowflake women?

      1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

        Good question. I’m not so sure it can be answered.

    2. Drew Dill

      So true! Thanks Dennis for your assessment of the ills of our society. This is the point, I think, of Gen Satterfield’s article.

    3. Doug Smith

      Perfect! This lesson should be posted on every door every where.

Comments are closed.