Thursday, April 29, 2010

Be Water

If you could meet anyone, anyone at all, living or not, who would it be? And why would you want to meet that person?

I would want to meet Bruce Lee. I have long admired him, first as a martial artist, but later because of his life story and his spiritual wisdom.

Here is one of my favorite quotations from one of his interviews. “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

When I was young I studied Tai Chi. I remember one exercise in particular. Our teacher would stand face to face with a student, about half an arm’s length apart. Feet were stationary and could not move. The student would try to push the teacher back, forcing the teacher to take a step to maintain his balance. As the student pushed on his shoulders or chest, the teacher simply melted away from the touch without avoiding it or resisting it. It was like trying to push water.

At some point, the student would be so extended that the teacher, using only his thumb and forefinger, would lightly grasp the student’s wrist and with a gentle pull throw the student to the ground. No matter how many times we participated in this exercise and vowed not to be caught off balance, our efforts to push invariably resulted in a quick trip to the floor while the teacher remained serenely unaffected and unmoved.

I have learned over the years that many arguments can be handled the same way. The best way to win an argument is to make the issue a non-issue. If there is nothing to fight about, the argument disappears. Here is an example I learned from a friend.

There used to be a lot of fighting about money in our house. The kids would want something that I said no to. Or the kids would argue about some perceived inequality. “You bought her new jeans, so you have to buy me new jeans.” (Even though I had just bought her new shoes.) Or someone would not be satisfied with a less expensive version of the desired designer goods.

Then an amazingly brilliant friend shared the money method in her family, which I quickly adapted for mine. On the first of each month, I gave each child the same amount of money. I continued to pay for food, shelter, and education, but the kids had to pay for everything else with their own money. That included all their clothes, entertainment, birthday presents for friends, etc. When the money was gone, then that was it for the month. No credit and no borrowing from anybody else.

The fighting stopped immediately because there was nothing to fight about. Everyone was treated the same and had control over their financial priorities. (I retained veto power of course.) The bonus was that the kids learned to budget, save, and be careful and thoughtful shoppers. It was undoubtedly one of the best things I ever did as a parent. (The system involved a bit more than what I have described here, but this is the basic structure. If you are interested in trying this for your family and you want to discuss it further, send me an email and I’d be glad to answer any questions. Naturally, each family would want to adapt this to their own children and their own values.)

The point here is that, thanks to my friend’s idea, I was able to make money a non-issue. Now when I find myself in conflict, I try to pause and explore the possibility of reframing the issue to avoid opposing sides. I have found this to be a powerful as well as a peaceful approach.

Be water, my friend.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you wrote about this, with the broader purpose. I love the idea of being water.

    Here is the link to my post, Being Content in a Buy-me, Get-it-Now Culture (Part 2),

    One of the best things we ever did, for peace of mind and teaching our kids. And, it simply emerged from the need to lower the stress in our lives. --Godspeed, Elizabeth


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