Bruce Lee would’ve been 78 yesterday. So to commemorate his birthday, I wanted to talk about one of his most popular sayings, of being “like water.”
Water can represent so many things: it is ever-present in our ecosystem. It can change shape from solid to liquid to gas. It moves everywhere, through many things, without doing much. It has no form, which then allows it to take the shape of anything.
In Taoism, this malleable form of water is what makes it such a common metaphor for the universe. There are many things in play in the universe – undiscovered energies, planets, stars, etc. And we as humans are also a part of this vast universe. It is no secret that one of humanity’s greatest strengths is the ability to adapt and survive. We’ve developed technology, communication and culture to find various ways to survive over the years — all products of adapting to the changing environment.
I feel that one of the things Bruce Lee talks about while advising us to be like water, is to be malleable so that we can adapt to life and its challenges. If we are complacent and rigid in our life, we take away our greatest strength as humans, and subject ourselves to a life of suffering. But to be formless means that nothing (external) defines you. You define you, nothing else. Then, our ego is minimized and we become capable of living to the capacity of our full potential. We become more aware and more powerful: two things that I would wish for everyone to be.
“Are you a Christian, Jay teacher?”
“What?” She caught me off guard, “What makes you say that?”
“Well my mom said that Christians are good people who care about others and help people, so you have to be Christian.”
I didn’t know how to respond. This was clearly meant to be a sweet compliment. But right now, I couldn’t have an in-depth conversation about how people of different religious backgrounds can also help and care about others. At least not here.
I got this tutoring job by a friend’s recommendation, so I had to make a good impression; becoming the Camp’s controversial math tutor wouldn’t be the way to do it. That summer, my friend’s Christian Leadership Camp was short on math teachers. I needed the money and I was great at what I did: teaching math to middle-schoolers. I couldn’t imagine many scenarios where Jesus would come up when teaching algebraic foil methods. All things considered, I accepted the job.
But here we were. Did this student see me as a Christian for staying late to help with homework? Did she see me as Christian for empathizing when she told me her friends thought she was “dumb” and stopped being friends? Did encouraging her to continue art classes (after seeing her amazing sketches on the margins of their math homework) make me a Christian?
I’m not sure about many of those things. But I do know that this was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in my life. Being a decent human has no religious boundaries.