Use it or lose it
The other day I read a startling news report. After a young man in his twenties became bed-ridden for just three weeks, his muscle mass and tone degenerated to that of a man in his forties.
Imagine aging 20 years in three weeks of non-activity! Another report from an orthopedic surgeon showed that when a man in his seventies did the same kind of training as a man in his forties, the leg muscle mass was not distinguishable between the two despite the age gap.
These reports confirm the fact that if we do not use our bodies, we lose their potential strength. Jimmy Connors (1952- ), a former American tennis champion, is evidently credited for this simple but profound phrase, ``Use it or lose it,” but we can also see earlier allusions to the same basic idea in the Biblical parable of the talents: a master departs on a trip leaving each of his three servants with a different amount of talents (a large sum of money).
A year later when he returns, he severely scolds one servant who buried his talents safely and did not do anything to increase their value. He takes them away and gives them to the servant who showed the ingenuity of doubling and tripling the original talents entrusted to him by the master.
When I volunteer to mentor people in my church for their spiritual growth, I always get them to promise to memorize scripture verses. I am instinctively practicing the theory of ``use it or lose it.” When we actively use our brains, we keep our minds sharp and well-greased for the more challenging things that will come our way. That in turn makes our life richer and more exciting.
This ``use it or lose it” concept does not apply only to the physical and mental aspects of life. We can imagine violinists, pianists, and other musicians not using their gifts and skills and seeing them atrophy.
We can picture the same thing happening in various professional fields. Astronauts won’t be useful if they don’t keep up with their training and learning. A calligrapher who no longer practices will lose the level of artistic prowess he once enjoyed. Olympic swimmers and gymnasts who stop practicing will regress back to ordinary levels. An architect, an artist, a beautician, carpenter, a chef, a dentist or a doctor, an engineer, a farmer, a geologist, a horticulturalist, a judge, a lawyer, a magician, a nurse, a physicist – the list could go on for a mile touching upon every single area of skills, talents and gifts of human endeavors. If they stop practicing what they are good at, those remarkable skills and expertise will become rusty and lose their edge.
Jumping one level higher, this ``use it or lose it” principle can be applied to going beyond our own boundaries of concern and focus. Leading a life of giving our own time, energy, resources and gifts to the betterment of others belongs to this category. Withholding all these just for myself is in a way losing them.
When we fail to use our time and energy to help others, to listen to someone’s problems, to keep someone company, and to take an interest in others, that time and energy vanish into a vacuum. When we hold onto our possessions and resources just for ourselves or our families, we lose the chance to share what we have abundantly. It is a terrible loss of the opportunity to make better and wider use of what we have. As Winston Churchill (1874-1965) once said, ``We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Who are good examples? Who uses their talents and gifts to help others? I read one Gallup poll showing the 18 most admired people by Americans. At the top of the list is Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. is second. What do they have in common? Why are they regarded so highly? I think it is that they lived their entire lives for the betterment of others using all their talents and gifts.
Even now when I read what Dr. King wrote, I get choked up. He was remarkably eloquent in not only his speeches but also in his writing. He was able to maximize all the gifts given by God to lead the Civil Rights movement, and gave his life to that cause. Then again, Mother Teresa’s words still touch me to the core because she lived what she believed in. She walked the walk. ``We cannot do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Let us use all that we have for making this world better lest we lose what we are endowed with. Use it, or we are in a peril of losing it.
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian now living in the United States. Email her at email@example.com.