Be Water: The Way Of Future Global Citizens
Reflections on Bruce Lee’s philosophy, transcending boundaries, and future global citizens.
So I recently finished the book Be Water, My Friend by Shannon Lee, daughter of the famed actor and martial artist, Bruce Lee. One thing that struck me the most about Bruce Lee was his “universal family” approach to life.
As someone who’s grown up in multiple countries, with parents from different cultures, I’ve always felt everywhere and nowhere. I’ve always been good connecting with anyone, yet never fully fitting in.
However, as I moved in to my early twenties, I learned to accept this. This became part of my truth.
It even made its way into my career (when I eventually moved into professional community management). As a Community Manager, I was always helping to connect people, but also still at the edge of it. Responsible as the “glue”, while also never fully feeling part of.
Fast-forward to my thirties, and I’m now fully embroiled in emerging tech and blockchain. Still applying community and culture principles to business, but also making many observations along the way.
A New Global Currency?
In 2008, Bitcoin made its way into the world. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a mighty vision for a new type of “world currency” fumble chaotically across the globe. There have been stories of overnight millionaires, changed lives, and also astronomical increases in cyber-crimes (e.g. scams, frauds, ponzis, etc.).
Like anything in life, there is both light and dark.
As people get roped in by the allure of quick money, they forget that most mechanisms of today require things like Bitcoin (BTC) to be valued in traditional fiat currencies. Meaning, we still use things like the US Dollar (USD) to derive value off of BTC, ETH, and any other crypto-currency currently in circulation.
Perhaps this is all part of the process — create a bunch of new currencies, see which one lasts, and then go with what works the best in the long run.
However, what this is all doing is decoupling one of the most powerful forces of society — money — away from any one country (to date, the USD has held the most power as the world’s reserve currency), which puts into question issues around safety, control, and security.
And with that, also comes into question identity.
A New Global Citizen
Alongside the evolution of new digital cash systems like Bitcoin (the original vision) is also the development of a new type of citizen: the “global” citizen.
This term has been thrown around carelessly, but has been around for many decades — well-known by expats, digital nomads, and prolific world-travelers.
However, there’s one particular group that is one to watch: the Third Culture Kids (or “TCKs” for short).
Unlike first-generation expats, digital nomads, or world-travelers, TCKs have typically grown up with exposure to multiple cultures from very, very young. And not just in one country, but multiple.
(It’s how I came to learn the difference between a multicultural society vs intercultural — big difference.)
You may already be familiar with a few TCKs. Some well-known celebrities and politicians include:
- Barack Obama
- Uma Thurman
- Yoko Ono
- Viggo Mortensen
- John Kerry
- Christiane Amanpour
- Freddie Mercury
- Kobe Bryant
- Gillian Anderson
You can typically spot a TCK when you ask them “where are you from?” and if they genuinely struggle to answer the question simply. For the uninitiated, this may seem like a strange response. But for TCKs, it’s a very real one because of their upbringing.
TCKs are different to your typical world-travelers. Unlike some who may have grown up in one country, but then had the privilege of traveling for vacations, TCKs have lived in multiple countries growing up. Often uprooted and forced to adapt based on one or both of their parent’s circumstances.
Some TCKs have faired well — eventually accepting their routine of perpetual change, while others have struggled when made to return to their “home” country (usually where they were born or parents were from). For the latter group, when they return “home”, they experience something known as reverse culture-shock. As they come to grapple with the new reality, they make a choice: either adapt or revolt.
Most choose to adapt (because they’re used to it).
Barack Obama & Bruce Lee
You see the results of this with stories like Barack Obama’s. Even though he was a TCK, he became who he needed to be based on where he was, just like a chameleon (common for many TCKs).
Barack took on the identity of an American, in order to be the best President of the United States he could be. Even though, deep down, he struggled with the question of where he was from for as long as he could remember. He had to prove how American he was, for the sake of his career path, despite having grown up in multiple different cultures.
Many in the US highlighted this fact even further, emphasizing his Muslim-sounding middle name (Hussein), criticizing him for his color (even though he’s bi-racial), and even questioning his legitimacy due to where he was born.
He was a mixed kid — his mom white, dad black, and grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia.
Despite all that, however, he transcended what people thought possible. Just like Bruce Lee did before him, but in a different way and career.
And did you know that Bruce Lee was of mixed heritage as well? Yep, his mother (Grace Ho) was Eurasian, and his dad was Cantonese. While growing up, Bruce got a lot of flack for it. He was never Chinese enough, nor white enough.
He was always at the edge — another common story for TCKs.
Throughout our known history, human beings have always had the need to expand. Each time they’ve reached beyond their traditional boundaries, whether geographically or ideologically, new terms had to be created to define new sizes, classifications, and phenomena.
Human groupings went from: families > tribes > clans > communities > networks > nation-states > countries > etc.
So while new currencies and citizens have been forming, new innovations have now also pushed expansion outside of our planet. Elon Musk, a well-known entrepreneur and innovator, has made it his mission to take humans to Mars.
Because he thinks it’s our biggest insurance policy against mass extinction. Looking at history, one thing that has resulted in mass resets for life on Earth has been meteor or asteroid collisions with our tiny blue planet.
And, when you think about it, it’s true.
We know that the dinosaurs experienced a similar cataclysmic event, which wiped out a lot of its species in one fell swoop. The same could happen at any time for human beings.
And although “life went on” after the fact, with whatever remained, it still meant loss of any prior developments (we can only hypothesize what happened back then based on the remnants found today, which means patchy pieces to the story).
By Elon working on solutions to make us a “multi-planetary species”, it will force us (yet again) to re-think current identities and boundaries.
What do I mean?
Well, right now, when people ask “where are you from?” it is typically answered with “I’m from X country.” But before we had any concept of a country, we would answer with the name of a nation-state, a town, or even a clan name.
In the future, we will answer with “I’m from Earth” or whatever is the equivalent.
The reason for this is because how we see ourselves expands every time we learn new information and gain new perspectives. Once we move beyond everything we know about our planet.
Astronauts who have returned from space have shared how their entire perception of Earth changed as a result of their experience off-planet.
It is no different to how our perceptions change when we travel and/or live in another country or culture. Perspective. The only difference is scale.
And personally, I think this is a good thing.
Because when you realize just how fragile our planet is, compared to the vastness of space that exists, your relationship with it also changes.
Without that relationship, we can never truly care for our “home” planet in the way that it deserves. The appreciation needs to return.
The Time Is Now
So, it is with this knowledge, that I foresee a time in our near future whereby a new global currency, citizen, and perspective will enter our collective consciousness and be accepted as the norm. With more travel, more “mixing”, and more pushing of boundaries, it is only natural for human beings to adapt and change with it.
And for the group of TCKs out there who may be reading this, you are not alone. You do not have to be someone you are not. You are meant for this planet, not just one sliver of it.
Even if you did not know that you were a TCK prior, I hope you find the time to explore it. In it, you will find the key to finding your place in this world. You are the glue for a changing society as it enters a new era. Do not be ashamed of who are you, embrace it. Teach the world the beauty of being adaptable, changeable, and fluid — for change is the only constant in life.
And like Bruce Lee once said, “Be water, my friend.”