A while back, a friend sent me a video in which a person attempts to feed a gold bar into an industrial shredder. After several tries, the gold bar is pretty ragged along one edge, yet more or less intact. It has survived the shredder.
Well, I’ll be.
It becomes extra wild when you consider one fact: This grade of industrial shredder can literally chew up a truck.
And yet one measly gold bar stands up incredibly well to it.
What the hell is going on here?
I asked my friend, who let me know that the gold’s performance is due to its special properties. Gold is dense, sure. But that’s really not the deciding factor. What’s more important is that gold is ductile. Gold is flexible and malleable. Pliant. It’s able to be reformed into many different shapes without becoming brittle or losing its toughness.
So when the shredder pulls, the gold bar goes along with it and gets pulled into another shape, rather than being broken into little pieces.
Or something like that. That’s my lay understanding of it anyway, how I interpret the impromptu physics lesson my friend gave me.
Gold Bends, Steel Shreds
Thinking back on the relationships I’ve known (both mine and others’), there were plenty that seemed strong, solid, virtually invincible… until the moment that something terrible happened. And it was at that moment that things catastrophically came apart. Shattered. Often in a way that meant the pieces could never be put back together.
And yet… I’ve known other relationships where that didn’t happen. They seemed strong before they hit difficulty, and when trouble struck, the relationship navigated it beautifully. Sure, there might be a few frayed edges after the fact — like the gold bar took on in that video — but the relationship was more or less intact in spite of the rough patch.
For a long time, this puzzled me. Why did this happen? Why were some seemingly strong relationships able to weather catastrophe, and why did others fall apart at the slightest resistance?
The answer is very much the same as why the gold bar is so hard to shred. It’s about flexibility. The strongest relationships can be like steel, easily broken into pieces if one or both people within in them don’t manage change well.
And other relationships are more like the gold bar: Because everyone involved is flexible, they’ll find themselves reshaped into something new after a rough patch, certainly changed, but with the relationship intact.