When we, as people, use the phrase “carry your own water” several concepts come to mind: (1) water is arguably the most precious resource on the planet and a life-giving commodity, (2) carrying your own water creates awareness of the value of every drop you possess, (3) carrying your own water requires a powerful trade-off between the value of the water and the effort required to transport what is a fairly heavy liquid – approximately 8.5 pounds per gallon, (4) carrying your own water signifies your willingness to avoid being a burden to the community by taking the initiative to support yourself, and (5) carrying your own water exemplifies the exchange between the personal effort utilized as an input with the resulting outcome (i.e. the output).
But perhaps the best way to think of the concept of carrying your own water is to remember that each person not only chooses to carry his/her own water (or not), but each chooses (to a large degree) the size and shape of the vessel that captures the water. Each person determines the method of transport, and each person decides on how full the vessel will be filled (presumably at the water well). Finally, each person determines the route that will be utilized to navigate to the intended destination.
By making purposeful and thoughtful choices around the size and shape of the vessel, the amount of water allowed into the vessel, the mode of transportation, and the route to the intended destination, the difficulty and effort required in the planning, decision-making, and actual delivery of the water become powerful teachers. The lessons learned become foundations for other lessons and more complex thought, higher levels of awareness, and more powerful modes of personal management and community involvement.
By explicitly making all the choices required to carry water, and in service to others (or not), we all begin to express and give life to our own personal ETHOS. In short, how we carry our water, for whom we carry the water, and the many objectives we seek to achieve in the process points to our personal code. Our capacity to build on and live a powerful ETHOS is often determined by how we carry our own water, and the lessons and awareness we gain from that very effort.
As warrior servants, those that serve explicitly through powerful choices and a keen awareness of meaning often focus on innovating to support those around them. In this regard, I tell the story of a young man (to my own boys) that was tasked with bringing water from the well many miles from his home. The young man had a fairly large family, and he carried a large vessel to transport the water from the well to his home. While the trip to the well as fairly difficult, because the vessel was heavy – the trip home from the well with the vessel full of water was very difficult and strenuous. The young man often had bruises on his shoulder from the long rod he used to hook and carry the water – with his hands on the rod, laid across his shoulder, and the vessel on the other end carried and held behind him on the other end of the rod.
The young man was dismayed. He often spilled a substantial portion of the water, and his family would often need to choose to drink the water – without any left to bathe or clean. The young man often smelled poorly, because he lacked the water to bathe. He became bitter about his situation, and his attitude turned negative and sour.
At the same time, his neighbor (about his age) walked with a limp and though he tried, he could not carry much water from the well. In fact, he carried half as much in twice the time from the well to his home as compared to the young man. His trek was much more difficult.
One day, the young man was sitting outside his home as the neighbor boy dragged himself and his half-full water vessel into his home (hours after the young man had returned). The young man was so lost in his own pity, he simply did not notice. But, the young boy’s father did notice. He sat down beside his son and said, “You can relieve your burdens by relieving others. Often, an act if kindness can change your life forever.”
Weeks went by, and the same scene played out each day. The young man would sit outside his home dismayed. The neighbor boy would arrive home hours after the young man had returned home, and the young man’s father would sit with his son and repeat these words, “You can relieve your burdens by relieving others. Often, an act if kindness can change your life forever.”
One day, on a particularly hot afternoon, the young man started out later than usual to the well to fetch water. As he arrived and stood in line at the well, the neighbor boy, having half filled his vessel, limped by the young man as he started his trek home. And once the young man had filled his vessel, he too started back for his home. About an hour into the young man’s trip home, he came across the neighbor boy. He had placed his water vessel down carefully before collapsing in the heat of the sun.
The young man heard his father’s words as he approached, “You can relieve your burdens by relieving others. Often, an act if kindness can change your life forever.”
The young man stopped. “Are you OK?” he asked.
The neighbor boy responded, “I can’t do it. The burden is too great today. I don’t know what I will do. My family needs the water.”
The young man replied, “I would help you, but I’m not sure how.”
The neighbor boy thought for several minutes. “Perhaps you can put your vessel on one end of your rod with my vessel at the other end. Maybe you can carry the rod across your shoulders to even the load. Will you try please?”
The young man nodded that he would try. The two young men poured some water into the neighbor boy’s vessel to even out the weight of each container and situated the vessels at each end of the rod. The neighbor boy helped the young man as he squat down to lift the rod. It worked!
The young man had only travelled a short distance and laughed, “This is easier than carrying my own vessel, my shoulder feels much better, and I can walk evenly now!” The neighbor boy was overjoyed. The two young men talked and shared stories the entire walk back to the village, and once there, each remarked how short the trip had seemed.
That night the two families celebrated what the two boys had accomplished, and the two boys agreed to meet each morning and repeat the day’s events. The young man had lived out what his father had told him, “You can relieve your burdens by relieving others. Often, an act if kindness can change your life forever.”
In the end, the young man found he could balance and carry two full vessels of water on the ends of his rod without spilling. The families prospered with the additional water, and the boys became life-long friends and powerful advocates for one another.
In truth, the simple act of kindness, a willingness to help, and the advice of a loving father completely changed many lives for the better.
So carry your own water, seek out the lessons that life can teach, gain more awareness of the people and world around you, and develop/extend your own personal ETHOS.
You’ll be better for it…and so will those that need you. Carry your own water, and be ready to carry for someone else. You just might change your life.