Years ago, there was a coworker who was struggling. Everyone in the organization knew it. Unfortunately, nothing anyone did seemed to make a difference to help the struggling person succeed. When talking about this, my coworker and friend, Dr. Catherine Huber, told me a story about a situation where she once worked.
Here’s the Metaphor…
There were two people. One of them was always having meltdowns and had trouble doing anything well. This person is “Ice.” The other person was quite capable. This person is “Sponge.”
The challenge was no matter how much Sponge tried to help Ice, Ice kept melting. Sponge was unable to help Ice chill out to prevent the melting in the first place, so instead Sponge started to clean up Ice’s steady flow of water. Unfortunately, rather than actually helping, Sponge got heavy with Ice’s mess and found it difficult to do Sponge’s actual job. In fact, rather than helping Ice, by taking on Ice’s water, Sponge started to leak too. In the end, no one got better.
Here’s the Science…
According to the article, “Sponges: How Do They Work?” by Andrea Trantola, modern-day artificial sponges are generally made from cellulose because “it absorbs water rather than break it down…The fiber’s structural rigidity also increases the sponge’s strength and durability.”
Unfortunately, a sponge's knack for holding onto liquids also make them ideal breeding grounds for bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. According to the USDA, a sponge that is left unattended for two to three days after cleaning up a kitchen spill can house bacterial and fungal colonies numbering in the millions. That includes E coli and a host of other potentially deadly strains.
Luckily, you can easily clean and disinfect your sponge by either washing it with a load of white laundry (don't skimp on that bleach) or filling it with water and microwaving for two minutes. Just don't overdo your cook time; if the sponge dries out completely it can catch fire in the microwave—leaving you with an even bigger mess to clean up.
Here’s the Point…
In life, sometimes we’re the ice. We are having trouble and no matter what anyone does to help us, the trouble persists. Why? Sometimes the help we need cannot come from someone else–it needs to come from within. Continuing to look externally for assistance only prolongs the challenge.
Also, sometimes in life, we are the fresh sponge. We have structural rigidity that gives us strength and durability. We are capable of empathy, kindness, and compassion. These traits allow us to be a support to others who are in need. This is a healthy sponge.
Other times, when we over-focus on others and forget ourselves, we take on too much from others and become an unhealthy breeding ground for potentially serious adverse health issues. Rather than helping someone, we are really trying to rescue them in ways that are dangerous to ourselves and others. There is undoubtedly a difference between being a listening ear with boundaries and codependency.
There is good news. Just like we can clean an overused sponge to make it ready for use again, we can also take the same approach for ourselves. Cleansing and being healthy include self-care behaviors like journaling, going for a walk, and meditating. In fact, here is a list from GoodTherapy.com of 134 activities that support self-care.
Among the ice, the healthy sponge, or the unhealthy sponge, the choice is clear. The question is, which one are you, and how will get to or maintain being the one you want to be?
P.S. This week I started teaching a summer session of the course EDU 645 for Niagara University. I’ve now lost track of how many times I’ve taught this course. Each semester I do, however, I start with George Couros’ 5 Questions which gives students the opportunity to share their expectations and personalities with their teachers. For this reason, The 5 Questions are my Catch of the Week.
P.P.S. Please remember to...
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