The higher the tension in a situation, the more likely things will go sideways. It isn’t just about nuclear treaties or missile threats – the same applies in basic physics and daily life. This is where we can take a clear lesson using a far more dangerous approach – rubber bands.
There are three ways to reduce tension in a band – (i) lessen the pull so that the band can contract and develop slack, (ii) release one of the areas that is creating tension to allow the band to snap back into place (and in some cases, out of place), or (iii) break the band by creating too much tension to bear.
Reducing tension is of course the best first approach. This allows the band to recover and minimize the risk of damage. Releasing an area of tension is similar but different. For example, let’s say you have two people pulling on a rubber band from different ends. The first solution involves one person, or both people, walking back toward each other to reduce the tension. The second solution involves one of the people letting go, resulting in a snap against the other person. The third option requires both individuals to continue to strain the band until it can’t handle the stress of the tug and it snaps, likely injuring both parties in the process.
There is a limit to how much pressure anyone can take. Option three is always a possibility but it is a destructive force that is difficult to reason with, and as a result, best to not engage. For some reason, though, this seems to be the default method of most people. The other default method is option two. Despite the logic presented in the options, very few people will find the balance, or harmony, in trying the first option.
Humanity craves extremes. This is a spiritual reaction to the collision of our neshama and our guf.
Translator’s Notes: Neshama - Hebrew for soul. This is the pure part of the 5-layered soul. Guf - Hebrew for body. This is what your soul is crammed in to and often has different desires than the spirit.
This collision is meant to enable the maximum amount of effort spent to achieve little good in this world so that we can have the maximum amount of pleasure in the next world with little expense. In the word of Calvin’s wise father, it’s “building character.”
Character is in short supply these days, and it need not be. To be someone of refined character means to work on your middos – traits – to be the maximum potential HaShem created you to be.
Is it easier to tug until something snaps? Of course. Road rage. Marital disputes. Fouls on the field. It’s the call of our guf to give into a base nature of what’s easy, what’s lazy, and what’s immediately satisfying.
Yet that is not the call for the life of anyone, Jewish or not. We are called for greater purposes. We have to recognize sometimes taught lines are boundary markers not to snap, but to respect and step back from. Deescalation in a fight (at home, at work, in public, politics, or overseas, etc.) shows true strength and honor and courage.
We are meant to deal with stress and to release stress. We are meant to be mindful and considerate. We are meant to study Torah and pursue HaShem. Everything else? It either guides us in this endeavor or hinders us from it.
What path will you take? Will you snap the band (or your opposition, or yourself) or will you release the tension and build up instead of tear down?