“Fish Love” is Not True Love

Really care about the other person in any transaction–don’t just give them “fish love.”

I join with a group for religious study a few times a month. One morning, one of the members shared a story she heard told by renowned scholar and author, Rabbi Abraham Twerski. I found the story quite thought provoking – I’ll paraphrase it for you:

Rabbi Twerski announced that the trouble with today’s marriages is that we only have “fish love” between us and our spouses. What’s fish love? Consider this: A man is diving into his fish dinner with great gusto, thoroughly enjoying his heaping portion of succulent fresh fish. Another gentleman is watching from a distance, fascinated by the expressions of great delight coming from the eater. As he passes by, he mentions to the gentleman, “It seems like you are really enjoying that fish dinner.” The gentleman replies enthusiastically, “I love fish!” In response, the other man says: “If you love fish so much, why did you allow this fish to be taken from the ocean and killed, just for your consumption?”

Rabbi Twersky goes on to teach: “That man doesn’t really love fish. He loves the way the fish makes him feel. He is really loving himself. And so it is with the love in our marriages and families. We declare that we “love” our spouses and our children. And yet, do we love our spouse and children for who they truly are, or only, for how good they make us feel?”

Since none of us are saints, our loving of one another will always be, at best, imperfect. It is impossible to disconnect our ego and personal needs entirely from our relationships. But consider how we could impact our families, clients, and ourselves, if we get our ego out of the way every now and then. This applies equally to our business life, as well as our family relationships.

For example, if you are a business owner: You profess to care a great deal about your customers. You want them to be happy and to serve them well. When you suspend for the moment your motive for profit, and your ego’s need for approval, what do you have left? Is there an element of your business behavior that is motivated by the desire to serve, to do God’s will, to do excellent work? How would you behave differently in your daily business activities if you truly “loved” your customer? Not “fish love ” – thinking only of how a happy customer will make you more money or earn you respect and admiration – but really caring for your customer’s quality of life.

Without egos, entrepreneurial dreams are short-lived. We can’t be fueled entirely by the noble desire to serve God. Most of us have bills to pay and we like feeling appreciated and respected. But here’s what we can do: When our basic emotional and physical needs are being met, we are freed to offer a more generous kind of love to our families, friends, and business associates. Let me share two examples:

Recently, a coaching client told me that she needed to end our coaching relationship. She had come to consider me a friend, and she wanted to be my peer, not my client. She wanted to develop a relationship with me that wasn’t based on paying me for my services. If I were only offering my client “fish love,” I would have focused on the disappearance of income, and I might have tried to manipulate her to stay as a client. Instead, I offered my client true love, supporting her decision to move on when she determined it was in her best interest. I trusted that new opportunities for income would arise, and I believed that she knew what was best for her at this time.

Witness your interactions today, and look for an opportunity to unselfishly serve a family member, friend, client, or business associate. You may find that it gives you a deeper sense of satisfaction than any amount of egotistical “fish love” ever could.

Azriela Jaffe is the founder of Anchored Dreams and author of “Honey, I Want to Start my Own Business, A Planning Guide for Couples” ( Harper Business 1996), and “Let’s Go Into Business Together, Eight Secrets for Positive Business Partnering” (Avon Books 1998). For free online newsletter for entrepreneurial couples, or for information about her syndicated column, “Advice from A-Z”, e-mail az@azriela.com. Questions and reader response can be e-mailed, or write to PO Box 209, Bausman, PA 17504