Planning for the future can be a good thing, but quite often we take it too far and forget about the importance of living today.
I heard a story last week about an American businessman who went to Mexico for his annual two week holiday that highlights that danger.
I considered moving it to an African setting for this column but then I decided the message comes through fine just as it is so I’m going to leave it in North America.
Hopefully that will help show that how we choose to live is not controlled by where we live. See what you think…
While the American was walking along the beach one morning he met a fisherman who was preparing to go out to sea.
The two men exchanged greetings and then the tourist set off to look around the local market.
When he was heading back to his lodge a couple of hours later, he saw the fisherman beaching his boat.
“Why are you home so soon?” he asked. “It isn’t even noon yet.”
“Well,” said the Mexican, “after two hours I had caught more fish than I needed to feed my family so I came home.”
“But what are you going to do for the rest of the day?” asked the American.
“Oh, I’ll spend some time with my wife and children and maybe I’ll have a nap, and then I might have a beer or two with some friends.”
“But if you had stayed out and fished all day you could have caught more fish to sell in the market and you could save some money. And then if you kept doing that for a few years you would be able to buy another boat and then eventually another one and then you would be able to save up lots of money.”
“Why would I want to do that?” the fisherman asked.
“So you could do what you want to do instead of working all day.”
I received a YouTube clip via email the same day I heard that story that helps explain why so many people in the western world would agree with the American businessman’s point of view.
It was from a talk about education by Alan Watts.
The British philosopher said one of the biggest problems in the west is that children are educated to always be looking to the future.
We go to preschool to prepare for primary school, and primary school prepares us for high school and high school is seen as a step towards college and university.
Then when we go out into the world we are expected to work towards one promotion after another.
The ultimate goal being a few weeks of holiday each year and a comfortable retirement when most of us will be too old and frail to do a lot of things we would have liked to do when we were spending all our time working.
Please don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan for the future.
We should, but as Watts pointed out at the end of his talk, making those plans is only useful for people who are capable of living in the present.