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The Other H2O We Need: Humility, Harmony, and Openness

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Do you get enough H2O? No, I'm not talking about the clear liquid that we drink (although it's definitely very important to get enough of that too!), I'm talking about H2O for your mind, heart, and soul.

In his Ted Talk, Be Humble — and Other Lessons from the Philosophy of Water, Raymond Tang explains the three lessons he learned from water: Humility, Harmony, and Openness (H2O). These three lessons were inspired by a passage 8 of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching 《道德经》:

The supreme goodness is like water.

It benefits all things without contention.

In dwelling, it stays grounded.

In being, it flows to depths.

In expression, it is honest.

In confrontation, it stays gentle.

In governance, it does not control.

In action, it aligns to timing.

It is content with its nature, and therefore cannot be faulted.

Raymond then goes on to share his own experiences applying the lessons he learned.


On humility, Raymond said,

“If we think about water flowing in a river, it is always staying low. It helps all the plants grow and keeps the animals alive. It doesn’t actually draw any attention to itself, nor does it need any reward and recognition.

Water’s humility taught me a few important things. It taught me that instead of acting like I know what I’m doing or that I have all the answers, it’s perfectly okay to say, ‘I don’t know. I want to learn more, and I need your help.’ It also taught me that instead of promoting my glory and success, it is so much more satisfying to promote the success and glory of others. It taught me that instead of doing things so that I can get ahead, it is so much more fulfilling and meaningful to help other people overcome their challenges so that they can succeed. With a humble mindset, I was able to form a lot richer connections with the people around me.”

Humility allows us to build richer connections with people, and as we learned previously, the quality of your life is directly dependent on the quality of your relationships.


On harmony, Raymond reflected,

“If we think about water flowing towards rock, it would just flow around it. it doesn’t get upset. It doesn’t get angry. It doesn’t get agitated. In fact, it doesn’t feel much at all. When faced with an obstacle, somehow, water finds a solution, without force, without conflict. When I was thinking through this, I became to understand why I was feeling stressed out in the first place. Instead of working in harmony with my environment, I was working against it. I was forcing things to change because I was consumed by the need to succeed or to prove myself. In the end, nothing did, and I got more frustrated.

By simply shifting my focus from trying to achieve more success to trying to achieve more harmony, I was immediately able to feel calm and focused again. I started asking questions like: Will this action bring me greater harmony and more harmony to my environment? Does this align with my nature?

I became more comfortable simply being who I am, rather than who I’m supposed to be or expected to be. Work actually became easier because I stopped focusing on the things I cannot control and only on the things that I can… Just as water is able to find a solution without force or conflict, I believe we can find a greater sense of fulfillment in our endeavors by shifting focus from achieving more success to achieving more harmony.”

Often times, we are so attached to our ideas of how things should work or happen. We believe that if only people or the world would accommodate us, then we would be happy. But this thinking just frustrates us because we cannot control people or the world. By studying water, Raymond gained the insight that we can be happier and more fulfilled by serving others and by pursuing happiness.

An important note here is that harmony does not mean we go along with everything that people want just to keep them happy. Rather, it means to truly serve others with best intentions. This can mean challenging others’ incomplete ideas or scolding them for bad actions, as well as encouraging them to do good.


On openness, Raymond explained,

“Water is open to change. Depending on the temperature, it can be a liquid, solid, or gas. Depending on the medium its in, it can be a teapot, a cup, or a flower vase. In fact, it’s water’s ability to adapt, to change, and remain flexible that made it so enduring through the ages despite all the changes in the environment.

We also live in a world today of constant change. We can no longer expect to work to a static job description or follow a single career path. We too are constantly expected to reinvent and refresh our skills to stay relevant. In our organization, we host a lot of hackathons, where small groups of individuals come together to solve a business problem in a compressed time frame. And what’s interesting to me is that the teams that usually win are not the ones with the most experienced team members, but the ones with members who are open to learn, who are open to unlearn, and who are open to helping each other navigate through the changing circumstances. Life is like a hackathon in some ways. It’s calling to each and every one of us to step up, to open up, and cause a ripple effect.”

Concluding Thoughts

What lessons did you learn from water? How can you apply those lessons in your own life?

Special thanks to Raymond Tang for sharing this lesson and his experiences in his Ted Talk!

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