The Sponge Principle: Soak Or Squeeze

I believe that each of us is equipped with the capacity to learn, to grow, and to absorb things from life and others that will let us do both of those things. But even if we surround ourselves with people that we can learn from, we miss our chance to learn if we hold onto our own perspective too tightly.

To illustrate this point to student leaders, I will take a bucket full of water and place it before them. The bucket of water represents those things that teach us, that push us, that jar us from our own comfort zones and make us better people. As I explain this, I pick up a sponge and hold it tightly in my hand. I tell them that the sponge represents our capacity to grow and to learn.

Then I plunge my hand into the bucket of water.  As I swirl it around, I tell the students:
• You come into contact with people that can teach you something everday.
• At no point in your life have you ever “arrived” in your learning and growing.
• You have the capacity to grow and learn, symbolized by the sponge, the question is: How are you using that capacity?

I then pull the sponge out of the bucket, my hand still tightly closed about it. I open my hand to expose the sponge is still dry, I wring it and no water (or very, very little) comes out. I explain that if we hold too tightly to our perspectives, grip too hard on the sense that we know it all, our lives start to dry up.

Then I plunge the sponge back into the bucket. This time I loosen my grip. When I pull the sponge back out, it is dripping wet. When I squeeze it, all kinds of water comes out. At this point, I talk about how we allow other people to influence our lives. I talk about the value of allowing the best parts of others to become the best parts of ourselves.

If you squeeze too tightly, you miss out on a lot. Sponges were made to absorb. The question we’re left with is, are we walking through life absorbing or squeezing?

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