This is one of my favourite quotes from the Tao Te Ching, which is the building block of Taoism. Lao-Tzu advises that its best to be like water, which nourishes the ten thousand things and does not contend. In the same verse he goes on to advise:
Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Keep good order.
Do the right thing.
Work when it is time.
When we look at what water does, from providing a home for fish and other aquatic life, rising to the sky just to fall back down to nourish the soil and help plants grow and give animals something to drink, to flowing down the stream nourishing all in its path, it sure seems to be a benevolent life-giving source, assisting everything else in their struggle to grow and develop. When it is done it does not ask for payment or recognition, it simply helps and then moves on.
"I think if we were all a little more like water, nourishing and helping without self-interest, the world would be a much better place to live."
You will also never find water in conflict with other water. If one river or stream comes across another, they do not contend or try to win dominance over the other. They simply merge together and continue on their way.
Later in the text, Lao-Tzu states that "the Sage acts and expects nothing, accomplishes and does not linger, has no desire to seem worthy."
Does this not sound like water? What a great way to live a good life, to do good deeds and good work without relying on recognition and reward. When we act like this we call it altruism or philanthropy.
I think if we were all a little more like water, nourishing and helping without self-interest, the world would be a much better place to live.
(Tao Te Ching translated by Stephen Addis & Stanley Lombardo 1993 Hackett Publishing Company, Boston)