“A rubber band is useless unless it is stretched.”
I heard my Jiu Jitsu instructor say this recently and it stuck with me, despite its drastic simplicity. Think about it. A rubber band (or “rubber binder,” depending on where you grew up), whether it is stretched or unstretched is the same thing, yet its level of usefulness changes entirely when a human imposes his or her will on it. When stretched, it is immediately made useful, given purpose, and directed to meet some specific objective. It is the act of stretching and creating tension – it is this act – that brings this tool from useless to useful. A rubber band can’t be useful without deliberate action.
Similarly, the components of life work in the same way. Our character and our mind both rely on action to be made useful. Action is the only differentiator and the intent to act is not enough. These functions of our self-being (character and mind) left dormant can be rendered useless. Behold the image of a young genius who, instead of reading, learning, and out experiencing life, is sadly cooped up in a cold, dark basement playing computer games and eating potato chips, wasting his potential. He is rendered useless despite his ability and opportunity to be stretched, to grow, and to be made useful. Although his intentions are good, they aren’t enough.
But it’s not just the young genius, it’s all of us who often fail to act despite our best intentions. Said differently through examples:
- The intent to volunteer is useless, but actually volunteering is useful.
- A to-do list is useless unless some purposeful to-do’s are achieved and checked off, then it becomes useful.
- Thinking about praying or meditating does not bring the benefits of prayer and meditation.
- A treadmill that isn’t being jogged on becomes a coat rack.
- A book that goes unread becomes a cheap paperweight.
You get the picture.
Perhaps the most extreme rubber band example dichotomy exists within the concept of time. Time can be spent doing many things: napping, watching TV, or scrolling the endless social media feeds. Conversely, time can also be spent learning a new skill, bonding with a friend, or working hard at a trade.
Ironically, time, like a rubber band, is also able to stretch if willed to do so. We know that it somehow flies by during fun times but slows down during boredom. Likewise, it expands with purpose and compresses with laziness. Think of the adage: “if you want something done, give it to a busy man.” It is the busy man who acts with purpose, who can bend time, making room in his schedule for what he needs and wants. Time relies on our personal will. It relies on us to force tension on it or it otherwise forces its tension on us by making us feel overwhelmed, manifesting often with a deep sigh and a feeling that “there are just never enough hours in the day.”
A lasting image sits in my head. As a child, my father had a toy rubber band gun in his office. He would often pull it out and let me shoot it under his supervision. Setting up the gun to be fired was too challenging for me, so my dad would help, stretching the rubber band around the back side of the wooden gun, then around to the front side until it was taut, showing no slack. Then, my dad would hand the gun to me, instructing me to point it away from any other people and then aim and fire whenever I was ready. I remember feeling tension in the trigger and being excited to watch the rubber band fly. I squeezed my finger hard on the trigger and then snap!, the rubber band flung into the air and across the room.
Stretching the rubber band gave it purpose, made it useful, and created a spring that could launch it high and far. And it is this image that makes me wonder, what aspects of our lives can we launch if we will simply take action and give them purpose? How far and high can we go?