The problem with humans is that they haven't been around very long.
You and I look to elders and books for guidance, but really all of this is just a grain of sand on the beach of eternity.
Here's what I propose.
Instead of looking at human behaviour for guidance, how about looking carefully at something that has been around much much longer: water.
1. It's soft yet powerful
Water seems to be a bit of a paradox — while being the softest of substances, it is also one of the most powerful.
Dripping water hollows out a stone not through force, but persistence.
For water, the long game is where the magic’s at.
Tiny, consistent, daily movements and practice creates the long-lasting and permanent change we see now.
Creating any great change in your life is a game of persistence, not force.
Lesson: focus on your habits and routines instead of the lifehacks.
2. It yields to everything
Imagine if water, instead of going around a rock, stopped and waited for the rock to move.
Fuckin’ nuts, right?
Yet look at what happens when you refuse to move when someone challenges your beliefs or opinion — arguments and fights.
You become the water that waits for the rock to move.
The wisdom of water is that it doesn’t engage the obstacle. It yields and continues the course.
This isn’t to say “do nothing”. Rather, if it doesn't move, don't let it stop you. Don't think twice about ignoring it and moving on with your course.
Lesson: Standing firm in your beliefs about something or someone creates unnecessary friction and pain.
3. It seeks the lowest level
This one is for "leaders".
The first thing you think about when you hear the word “leader” is somebody with authority, typically at the top or in charge, and telling you what to do.
But what you’ve described there is a manager, not a leader.
The most effective leader is a lot like water — it stays low and humble.
In exactly the same way, the most effective leaders are servants, not dictators. They stay low and achieve the aim by empowering their people instead of proving themselves better and wielding authority.
The real leaders in your life are ones that would never even call themselves leaders — parents, teachers, coaches, and anybody else that has ever cared for your wellbeing and improvement.
We are drawn to the humility of leaders much like rivers are drawn to the most humble water source — the sea.
Lesson: when you see a river searching for the sea, let it remind you of the power in humility and servitude.
4. It gives without expectation
No water = no life.
When we look for life on other planets, we look for water.
Animals are 75% water, plants 90%.
Water has touched and nourished every single thing on earth without expecting anything in return.
Western societies are structured around transactions so it’s all too easy to expect something in return for everything you do.
But if you give and expect something in return, you are doing business, not kindness.
Lesson: let water remind you of how natural it is to give without expectations. Think about anonymous gifts, surprises, or letters you could give to your colleagues, family, and strangers that will touch and nourish them.
5. It "does" without thinking
When water encounters an obstacle, it doesn’t stop to think about which way to turn — it turns. And that’s that.
If it needs to turn again later, it turns again.
How many decisions have you ignored and stored in your head for later?
It may sound chaotic ("just do whatever and worry about it later"), but if your guide is water-like kindness and humility, then there is method to the madness.
Lesson: When you see water, think about the decisions you have yet to make and follow what feels right instead of carrying the weight of unmade decisions. You can always change the course later.
6. Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee’s, the greatest martial artist of all time, taught his students to “be like water”.
In his letters, he attributes it to the only teacher he ever had — Yip Man.
As a young man, Bruce trained religiously every week. He kept pushing his limits, getting stronger, faster and so on… Until one day, Yip said “preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it. Don’t practice this week: Go home and think about it.”
After hours of meditation on contemplation, Bruce hits the water out of frustration. And it hits him:
“…was not this water the very essence of Kung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of Kung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.
Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached — not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”
Yielding to the force of an opponent and using it against him is the basis of many Eastern martial arts traditions.
Let water remind you that yielding to force is not a weakness.
Be water, my friend. Be water.