Tension is a natural part of relationships. Most of us hate it for sure. But tension can make us even better versions of ourselves. And, tension can only be “lived out” where deep trust exists. If trust isn't there, the relationship might actually snap.
(You might also want to review the "paper plane" post, too, if you're interested in learning more about relationships.)
I often illustrate this concept by using a rubber band. And, I'll be honest with you... this illustratation came about completely by accident. And, I'm sure I heard this somewhere before using it- I just don't know where and to whom I should give credit :-)
At Advance 3.0 in Kansas City, my friend Derin asked a question about leadership: "How do you move in a certain direction if the people who are with you- the people you are in relationship with- don't necessarily want to go...?"
Now, he wasn't talking about going somewhere and trying to beg complete strangers to take the walk with you... he was referring to moving "closer" people forward... people you talk to every single day.
* Family members
* Employees or business team members
* Close friends
As I was thinking about how to answer him with something other than, "I don't know... just figure it out..." I looked to the ground and noticed a rubber band. Just a little one. The kind you use to bundle the mail or a few pencils together. The thin kind...
I picked it up.
"Rubber bands work because of tension," I explained. "No tension and the rubberband doens't do anything at all..."
Now, this moment all sounds extremely eloquent looking back in the rearview mirror of my life. Kind of like a fishing story or last minute sports play that "saved the game" while you were in high school... I'm sure it wasn't as smooth in real life as it seems now. But the point remains the same...
The problem with rubber bands are this: too much tension and the things break; not enough tension and the rubber bands don't accomplish what they were created to do.
Comparison is a tricky thing. I decided last week that if I was living in a vacuum, if I never saw a Facebook post of someone else's highlight reel, if I never peeked over the fence and saw something amazingly wonderful that someone else was doing... I would be completely content right here, right now.
Yet, at the same time, it's by seeing the awesomeness in others- and the awesome things around them- that I get a glimpse into the "more" that's actually possible for me. I mean, I'm blessed by their gifts and contributions- even if I do sometimes fall into that comparison thing, right?
Here's my reality, then: relationships enhance my life precisely because of the two-fold reality that:
Yes, the tension that relationships invite is a double-edged sword. There’s a good side and a bad side.
On the bad side, we can become envious and bitter when we see others’ successes. We must remember, as we've discussed other places on this site, that we most often compare our ongoing process to their one moment of glory. We see that highlight reel- not the full story. Everyone can look great for 60 seconds out of every two hours, right?
On the good side, many times we see in others something that pulls us- through that tension of where they are that we're not yet- to become something greater than we imagined we can be.
Think about it: the tension of relationships often makes us greater than we were on our own... they often show us what’s possible in ourselves that we didn’t previously know. In effect, such relationships enhance our capacity for dream achieving. They show us what’s possible that we might not have seen before.
For instance, think about the four-minute mile.
Or, take a look at the paper airplane building video, the leadership exercise I wrote about here.
Proverbs tells us that in the same way that iron sharpens iron, the countenance of one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). To see someone's countenance means you have to be close. Scary close.
You can't see a countenance through a Facebook or Twitter feed. Or an Instagram post. Or even a live video. Those things grant us glimpses into what others are like, but they often give us the 60 seconds... the highlight reel.
To see a countenance you have to have "face time." Real face to face time. In person. Live.
That's the first issue with that verse.
Here’s another one: iron isn’t typically used to sharpen iron. Iron is used to fight iron- like swords! In other words, Solomon is telling us that the tension of relationships, the clanging and banging and conflict, is often the testing ground that refines us and makes us the best version of who we are to become.
Back to the conversation with Derin at that event. It was a 1:1 convo in front of 100 of our closest friends, in reality.
I told him, as I stretched the rubber band between my fingers just like the picture shows above, that relationships were just like that. And, I began teaching him as I explained...
"Let's say you're on one side of the rubber band and the person you are leading is on the other side. The rubber band is the relationship...
"If you move to the right, it creates tension. Let's say there's a great goal that you want to achieve to the right... you can go after it hard and risk snapping the band, right?"
He agreed that was an option. We see it all the time. Men pursue careers and snap their families, leaving them behind..
"Or, you can move a little... and then wait for them to catch up. Once the tension eases, you can move ahead a little more... then let them catch you... then move a little more...."
He seemed to be getting it. Everyone was. In fact, this part of the teaching is something that we include at every single Advance.
"Let's say they move left, though... and let's say it's your wife- that she moves to the left... yet you're wanting to go to the right."
Derin finished the thought: "Then I can either go right and risk the relationship or I can go left a bit with her..."
"Exactly," I replied.
"I'd like to think I would actually choose her," he said.
Here's the deal: I've learned to do some amazing things and had some incredible experiences because I've had people zig to the left on me- and I chose to honor the relationship rather than "hold to my thing." You probably have, too.
If you've ever gone sky-diving, ridden a bull, or hiked the Grand Canyon...
If you've ever taken a road trip, driven overnight to the beach at the last minute...
.... you've likely experienced this healthy tension that took you to something you couldn't have otherwised conceived of yourself doing. Quite simply, a relationship- a rubber band- took you there.
Here's where it gets tricky. We don't just have one relationship- we have many. And, the biggest tension comes when they lead us in different directions at the same time. At that point, you often have to choose.
This means you may have a group of friends that has to go... because that tension is pulling you somewhere you don't want to go. You may have "been-there-done-that" and have a t-shirt to prove it, right?
Or it may mean that you have a hobby that needs to go... because you choose not to create tension that pulls against the relationship. You choose the relationship instead.
When I was a kid, I learned to drive a golf cart by chauffeuring my dad and some of his friends around the front 9. I'd "tap out" by the time they hit the back 9 and get a snack, staying behind in the clubhouse.
I remember at some point, though, my dad actaully quit playing...
"It takes too much time from the family," he said.
By then, I was playing sports and didn't have time to drive him between swings of the club. My little brother was a bit older- and our waaaaay younger sister was now in the mix. He couldn't take all three of us to the course, so he quit golfing and opted to do something with the entire family instead.
In other words, he stepped out of the rubber band that was calling him to the golf course, and stayed in the rubber band that was his home. The guys he used to play with all understood. He enjoyed those relationships in other ways after that.
John Maxwell mentions a survey he took at one of his leadership conferences. He asked the attenders, "Why did you become a leader?"
He wanted to know if it was something people saw in themselves, or if the tension of a relationship took them somewhere they might not have ever seen themselves. Turns out, the results were in line what what we're learning here- that the “who” is one of the most significant factors in life:
Every major change in your life, good or bad, was probably more influenced by a “who” than a “what," a “where,” a “how,” or even a “why.” Think about it. The “who” is the biggest influencer in life. As long as you continue to choose the relationship, that is.
Remember, people who believe in you and your dreams will consistently call out the great things in you that you may not even see! Yes, they'll point out the blind spots, too- without holding ou at fault. And, through the tension of the relationship you'll go places you've never quite imagined.
The video clip above comes from the Advance. Learn more here.
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