Be a sponge

In our house, my wife, Heather, and I have different definitions of “cleaning.” She’s the one who wants to pick up the dog’s toys, fold the blankets, make sure there’s nothing on the counter and then kick back and enjoy the rest of Saturday with a glass of wine. However, I’m on the flip-side of that coin. If we’re going to clean, we’re going to clean. That means bust out the bucket and rag, the Swiffer, the Lysol wipes and the duster. Because if we’re going to clean, we’re going to do what she calls, “Taylor clean,” and what I call “clean clean.”

So the other day, we were “clean cleaning,” and I was cleaning our kitchen counters. I dunked the sponge in a bucket of soapy water, and without thinking, slopped it down on the counter. Now of course, water went everywhere. At least it was clean water, I guess. But water’s everywhere and dripping on the floor and now my easy task of wiping down the counters is taking three times as long as I soak up all of the water I’ve just sloshed all over the kitchen counter and floor.

That sponge I was using can do a lot of things. It has two sides, so it can work to sop up water and wipe up spills on one side, and the other side has a scrubber that can get the grease off a pan and scrape dried spaghetti sauce off of the counter. But the best way to use that sponge is to dunk it in the water, wring it out and then start cleaning whatever needs cleaning.

The idea of “being a sponge” is something I’m sure almost all of you have heard. The phrase, “be a sponge” tells us to soak up all of the information we can in every experience. Sop up every last drop of culture when you visit a new city or country. Absorb every bit of wisdom you can when you get to hear an acclaimed leader speak. Take in every spec of knowledge from the various and sundry books that are piled up on your nightstand.

But if we learned nothing from a dripping-wet-kitchen story, we learned that sponges need wrung out. Sponges need to put that water somewhere to be effective. And the same goes for us. Learning isn’t just about taking in information. It’s about sharing that information, as well.

It’s not enough to have head knowledge. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s great to learn just to learn, but does it much matter if we can’t apply it to our lives? Does it much matter if what we learned doesn’t impact our relationships, inform our decisions or at the very least make us better critical thinkers and problem solvers? Taking what we’ve learned and applying it to our life is a vital step in the learning process. But I think we can go a layer deeper.

When we use that sponge, we don’t just wring it out to apply what we’ve soaked up to our own “life bucket.” We need to wring out that sponge for those around us, as well. The obvious is that sharing what we’ve learned gets those around us on the same page. It helps us speak a common language from a similar knowledge-base. But once again, there’s more to it than that.

I’ve found that learning something isn’t quite complete until we can share it in a relatable way. Once we’ve got enough understanding about something that we can share it in our own words, we’ve truly understood it. We realize how it impacts our lives, decisions and relationships, and we know the ins and outs well enough to accept that this nugget of learning can benefit those around us. That’s the moment that we’ve truly learned. That’s the moment when we most benefit ourselves, as well.

Have you ever tried to explain something to someone who just doesn’t get it? Or maybe it’s you who just doesn’t get it? Maybe you have some more learning to do. Maybe you have some more questions to ask. Actually, not maybe. Definitely. You definitely have some more learning to do and some more questions to ask.

Sharing what you’ve learned is a benchmark for you to look at and decide if you have a grasp on an idea or if you need to do a little more Googling.

This idea was made plain to me when I was in college. I had a German minor in college, and in one of my classes, a professor was explaining the levels to proficiency. When learning vocabulary, you are able to hear a word in German and identify what it means in English. This is the first step to learning the word. But to truly learn that word, you need to be able to come up with the German word from the English thoughts in your head. You need to have the word on-hand and ready to go at a moment’s notice to be truly proficient.

We should strive to be proficient in anything we endeavor to understand. We should have such a strong grasp on new ideas that we can pull them out and explain them in a new language for others to understand at a moment’s notice. That’s when we’ll have truly learned. That’s when we are proficient. That’s when we’re being a proper sponge.

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