The Mexican Fisherman Parable



I’ve seen several versions of this little parable. All are very similar and I have heard that there are some versions that change the nationalities of the characters.

It seems some people become offended at the stereotyping of the Mexican and the American businessman. If you are one of these people and unable (or unwilling) to see the universality in the message you should stop reading now because that’s the version I’ve chosen to reproduce.

Nobody seems to know the source of the original and probably many of the different versions are due to people adding or subtracting as they in turn re-tell the version they have heard. The version I reproduce below is my favourite.

This parable also seems to represent different messages to different people. One writer took it down off her wall because she had come to feel it was serving to reinforce a fallacy many people have about the work-life balance. That we cannot have both a successful career and life satisfaction she contends is nonsense. On that score I fully agree. I’m not sure that’s what the parable is about though.

For me I find this little story takes me back to my late teens when I discovered something I didn’t fully understand but also could not ignore.

At the time my pregnant wife and I were living in a double bed-sitter located in a fairly affluent neighbourhood. (Unfortunately the bed-sitter didn’t reflect that affluence.) The bed-sitter was located on the top floor of a small private rundown ex-hotel that had I suppose once been quite exclusive. It certainly wasn’t now.

Surrounding this ex-hotel were a variety of residences which genuinely could be described as ‘desirable’. They were definitely upmarket and certainly outside the purchasing power of an ordinary working man of that time. (Late-sixties.) Having said that, I can now say they weren’t that grand either but at that time we were fresh from the working class areas of northern England where cobbled streets and back-to-back houses were still very much in evidence.

From our vantage point on the top floor we looked down on these (to our eyes) enviable houses. We hated where we were living and looked at these properties with emotional longing. This wasn’t the north. There were no net curtains here. You could see inside and these houses were always beautifully furnished. It was however what you didn’t see that caught my attention.

What you didn’t see, not very often anyway, was people. Why? Because they were always at work! Whether they ‘loved what they were doing or not’, I don’t know, but it seemed to me that in order to be able to have one of these beautiful houses you needed to work 18 hours a day at least and six or seven days a week as well.

You would see the owners arrive home in their expensive and beautiful cars very late at night and they were up and gone again very early the next morning. Week-ends didn’t seem to make much difference, the houses were always unoccupied.

What was the point I thought to myself? They didn’t have homes, just expensive houses and no time to enjoy them. To me the trade off didn’t seem worth it.

I’m into my 66th year now and I still don’t really understand this system we live under. I’ve never been able to buy into it and it’s my early experience that always comes back to me when I read the following parable.

To me this little story seems say, the trade off is too high and actually doesn’t need to be. It’s the last bit that’s the most important. It doesn’t need to be.


The Story


Thinking about lunch, the vacationing businessman stared at the calm, blue sea. A small boat laden with large yellow-fin tuna docked near the pretty Mexican village. A lone fisherman jumped ashore.

“That’s a great catch,” said the tourist. “How long did it take you?”

“Not so long,” replied the Mexican.

“Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”

“That’s enough to keep the family provided for.”

“What do you do with the rest of your time?”

“Sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, have lunch, take a siesta with Maria, my wife. Stroll into the village each evening, sip wine, play guitar and cards with my amigos — it’s a full and rich life, señor.”

“I think I could help you,” the visitor said, wrinkling his nose.”

“I’m a Harvard MBA and this is the advice you’d get at business school. Spend more time fishing, buy a bigger boat, make more money, then several boats until you’ve got a fleet. Don’t sell the catch to a middleman, sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You’d control the product, production, and distribution. You could then leave this small town behind, move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, perhaps eventually to New York City to run your expanding firm.”

“But señor, how long would this take?”

“Fifteen, twenty years.”

“But what then, señor?”

“That’s the best part,” the businessman laughed. “When the time is right, you could float on the stock market and make millions of dollars.”

“Hmm, millions you say. What then, señor?”

“Then you could retire and go home. Move to a pretty village by the sea, sleep late, fish a little, play with your grandchildren, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings, sip wine, and play guitar and cards with your friends.”

Post: © 2013 by David Meredith.

David Meredith
Not An Authority On Anything.
Härnösand den 03 maj 2013.
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