The Fisherman and the Monkey
During my last day in Lebanon, I was reminded about just how powerful the basic need for freedom can be in a person’s life. I had visited a very unique and important school in Tyre (yes, the Tyre talked about in the Bible) and afterward was taken to a seaside restaurant where I was able to talk more with the school’s principal about the history of the school and its future mission. The story of the school must be told, as it is an amazing tale of faith and courage, but for now I will share something (else) I observed as I sat by the water’s edge.
There was a sea wall that protected a marina area that was home to many small fishing boats. Nets were piled on the sterns of many of the boats, or piled along the docks just behind the boats. This was a working marina, if you will. I noticed one man sitting in his boat working on one of his nets. He had white hair pulled back tightly into a short ponytail and was shirtless, revealing his weathered, overly tanned skin. It struck me as I watched him concentrating on a portion of fishing net on his lap how that might have been Peter’s exact position when Jesus walked up and asked Peter to join him. (When the school principal saw me looking at the white-haired fisherman he told me about how this fisherman was so distinctive that when documentaries are made about Tyre, as National Geographic did, the film makers always want scenes that include this man.)
A few moments later a younger man (younger than 35) walked onto another boat near where I was sitting. He was in jeans and an old t-shirt, and he had a little monkey on his back. Literally. This got my attention and I continued to watch this interesting duo. The man struggled to get the monkey off his back, literally, but eventually did. The monkey was on a leash and the man attached the leash to one of the metal uprights supporting a small roof for the boat. The monkey settled in, at times climbing the upright for a better view, at times just sitting on the deck and watching his companion work on nets. When the principal saw that I was focused on this younger fisherman and the monkey he told me something that expanded my understanding of the basic need that people have for freedom.
The young fisherman, the principal explained, had a good job as a pilot of a large boat or yacht for some rich person in the area, but that he didn’t like being under someone’s supervision or direction, and that he preferred the life of a simple fisherman, not knowing how much his income would be, but being in total control of his actions and destiny. Instead of good-sized paycheck, and having to answer to someone else, he chose a smaller, sporadic paycheck, and having total say over the details of his life. Once, the principal continued, the young fisherman caught a huge lobster, easily worth $50 if he sold it. “But he didn’t sell it,” the principal said with some passion in his voice. “When I asked him what he did with the lobster if he didn’t sell it, he told me, I ate it!”
This story reminds us of the power of the basic needs, in this case the need for freedom. He acted on his need for autonomy, which strikes some of us as gutsy. He could have stayed with the good paying job, which provided security, but for him the trade-off wasn’t worth it. Apparently, he has a lower survival need. The need for freedom doesn’t force a person to give up good paying jobs. Sometimes people work in what for them is a less than ideal situation because it pays them enough money to satisfy their need for freedom in other ways besides their jobs – maybe they travel or have expensive hobbies. If we have a high need for freedom, though, and don’t satisfy that need we will most likely be unhappy. The basic needs don’t just go away. We were born with them and they are with us for life.
The young fisherman struggled to get the monkey off his back when he wanted to start working on his nets. That moment may have captured what the fisherman felt as he wrestled with what to do with his life. Maybe his good paying job felt like a monkey on his back, too. Monkeys can be like that for all of us.
The Choice Theory Study Group is meeting this coming Sabbath, November 2, at 2:00 pm in room 212 of the Education building at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California.
Really enjoyed this blog. I felt it really spoke to me in a unique way. I could have been working for an accounting firm making a good salary, but I chose education because I really want to show my students that they have potential to complete any task no matter what obstacles are ahead. Even though I got let go because of budget cuts my Lord has been consistently providing for me. I currently enjoy what I do right now working with international students, subbing and a personal tutor. I know this is making me stronger for when I go back into full-time work.
Thank you, Luis. It does sound like you can relate to the Fisherman’s decision on a very personal level. I really respect your decision to follow your heart, rather than your pocketbook.
I have enjoyed your letters from Lebanon a lot! Thank you for your reflections on culture and this one on freedom. From the story of the monkey I have been thinking. Maybe I use too many pictures, but I try. I like thinking this way:-) Sometimes when I struggle with the monkey on my back, I wonder what is really most important: My need for freedom or the monkey`s need for/of being on my back? Some of us have a strong need for freedom, but we feel guilty trying to remove him, and we are afraid of our possible new freedom? And what if we are wrong? Maybe the monkey should be a part of our back, although it does not feel ok..or maybe we actually should be stronger and braver and remove him..
I can really understand what you have described. I might say it a little differently, but I think we are saying the exact same thing. I would word the sentence, “I wonder what is really most important: My need for freedom or my need for the monkey to be on my back?” Whatever our “monkey” is, it got on our back and is staying there because it meets a need in some way. A person may struggle with whether or not to stay in a job they don’t like, but that provides health insurance; a person may struggle with whether or not to stay in a marriage, but does so for the children; a person struggles with whether or not to quit drinking, but delays the decision because he doesn’t know how he will deal with the emotional pain in his life without it. These are conflicts. A person can rationalize in both directions. I do think words like strength and bravery are relevant here. It would take strength, courage, and more to make the hard decision that so many people face. It is so important to remember that the Holy Spirit is ready to help us with these kinds of conflicts. We really need to come into a knowledge and experience of that reality. Always good to hear from you, Nina.