The other H2O we need: Humility, Harmony, and Openness

Jay Shetty is a former monk who is now a, viral content creator, award-winning host, and motivational speaker. After graduating from Cass Business School in England, he turned down lucrative offers to become a monk. As a monk, he studied the timeless philosophies and sciences of the east in great depth, focusing on the connections and implications for today’s society. For three years, Jay helped build sustainable villages and coached millennials on wellbeing and success. Although he loved what he was doing, he knew it that it didn’t scale.

Driven by his desire to share the wisdom he gained with as many people as possible, he “re-engaged” with modern society with particular focus on the digital world. After launching his video channel in 2016, his videos of wisdom garnered over 1 billion views in less than 12 months, making him one of the most viewed people on the internet internationally. He has interviewed the likes of Tim Ferris and Simon Sinek, and he has advised over 150 executives on their personal brands. In light of the impact he’s made, Jay was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 List in 2017.

You may think Jay to be someone who has remarkable capabilities and spirituality growing up, but he wasn’t. In his interview by Tom Bilyeu, Jay said “I wasn’t a spiritual kid growing up, I wasn’t a religious kid growing up, I wasn’t even a good kid growing up. I was just a rebel, a misfit trying things out.” Jay explained that

“At 18, I was really fortunate…this monk was invited to speak, and I kinda just went because one of my friends forced me to. At that time, I was listening to CEOs and entrepreneurs and business people and marketers who I thought, that’s what I was aspiring to be like. And then I hear this monk, and he captivated me like no one had ever captivated me before…and then I found out that he gave up jobs at Google and Microsoft to be a monk, and I thought to myself, Who does that? You know, he’s given up everything that I’m chasing, and that all my friends are chasing, but he seems happier than anyone I’ve ever met before!”

Most people can relate to Jay before he met the monk. We all had ideas of success, and those ideas typically involved meeting societal expectations and building a reputation. Jay could have easily accepted a job at a prestigious company, and indeed, many in similar situations did. But Jay noticed that those who were 5, 10, 15 years ahead of him were not as happy and fulfilled as the monk, so he chose the role model that he wanted to emulate.

From the previous blog posts on attachment to ideas and physical possessions, we can see why those that chase wealth and fame will never be truly happy, for there is always more to chase (and consequently, more to protect). On the other hand, the life of a monk is like that of Diogenes: letting go of desires until you are happy with what you have. In fact, a monk’s life goes even further by selflessly helping others attain happiness. But is there a simple way for “normal” people, who do not want to become a monk, to attain a similar level of happiness and, more importantly, fulfillment in life? Actually, there is.

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

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.

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 endeavours 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.”

Whether you are a monk or not, young or old, leader or follower, lucky or unlucky, applying the three principles of humility, harmony, and openness will definitely improve your life and the lives of those around you.

Before you go…

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.