THE BLOG
07/11/2013 11:29 am ET | Updated Sep 10, 2013

Unexpected Teachers: 5 Things I Learned From a Great White Carp

Life's teachers come in the most unexpected forms. Sometimes, they even sport fins and scales, like the three-foot carp that lives in the pond where I take my daily stroll. OK, this carp has a human interpreter, Robert, a fishing enthusiast who I met a number of years ago during one of my pond strolls. I've since enjoyed the parallels he draws between fishing and life (he's been a serious fisherman for more than 50 years and knows his stuff).

During a recent walk around the pond, I pointed to the large white carp swimming beneath the surface and mentioned that he'd been around for quite a while. Robert told me that no one had ever been able to catch that carp since it was placed in the pond years ago. And then one day, by just a stroke of luck, he caught it.

"Why'd you release it -- not good eating?" I asked.

"Nope," he replied. "I set it free because we made eye contact."

Robert then explained what might be called the fisherman's code of honor. If you catch a fish and you look each other in the eye, it's understood that you're playing a game of "catch and release" and you send it home. If it doesn't look you in the eye, you're looking at dinner.

"How come someone else hasn't snagged him?"

"Oh, it'll die of natural causes well before it gets caught," Robert replied. He then went on to explain that the carp is a savvy creature built to survive. As he talked, I realized that this was no fish tale -- there were some great takeaways for those of us who walk on land and don't have gills. Here are my five favorites.

  1. Sniff before you bite. Robert told me that this carp had learned to nudge and sniff the bait before biting -- it had apparently become alert to nature's offerings and could distinguish between the real thing and the lure of a human. The fish's success comes down to learning when it is being conned; it can't afford a single mistake. What if we, of the "superior intelligence" could do that too? Would save a lot of grief!
  2. When someone goes cold, go deeper. When winter begins setting in and there is a chill in the air, the carp goes deeper where the water is warmer. That's a great communication metaphor for us terrestrial folk; if the person that you're speaking to goes cold on you, try to drive the conversation deeper to a more meaningful level -- that just might warm things up!
  3. When things get tough, don't bury your head underground. If the carp gets alarmed, it swims to the bottom of the pond for safety. But it never buries itself in the sediment. That's a good lesson for us. When things get difficult, find a safe position, but don't hide. If you become oblivious to the threats and obstacles that remain in your sphere, you may be in for a rude surprise when you emerge again!
  4. Learn to thrive in any environment. The carp was not a native to the pond; someone placed it there. Yet it adapted to the environment and is now thriving. We often find ourselves in alien environments, too, due to circumstances beyond our control. Do we roll over or adapt? Do we focus on "woe is me" or make the best of our circumstances? The choice is ours!
  5. Be true to thyself. Make no mistake about it -- the carp does not flounder, nor does it scheme like a shark. He knows what he is. He knows what he can and cannot do, and lives true to his nature. How many human beings create a false version of themselves, hoping to look good or jump ahead in life, and find themselves flip-flopping like a fish on land?

Finally, think about this. The carp is a gentle creature; it could be called meek and rather delicate. But the fact is, carps have been around for more than 2,500 years and are able to survive the coldest winters and wiliest hunters. Biblical text mentions that the meek shall inherit the earth; perhaps it can be said that this fish has already inherited the pond.

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Copyright © 2013 Rob White

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