"We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." - Albert Einstein
Diamonds are the most common gemstone on the face of the earth. Yes, every other gemstone is more rare than diamonds. Topaz is rarer. Quartz is rarer. In fact, I would submit to you that every other gemstone is more beautiful than diamonds as well. That's why few royalty ever wore colorless diamonds for the vast majority of human history. Think about it. Have you ever looked at a blank pane of glass and thought to yourself, "majestic!"? Of course not. A colorless, flawless diamond is boring. Yes, it shines. But it is magnitudes less luminescent than a five dollar Home Depot flashlight.
Though hard, diamonds are not tough from an engineering perspective. Graphite in your mechanical pencil is made from the exact same element; and, frankly, it's more useful around the house. Rippled, colored glass can take away your breath. Diamonds, on the other hand, stir nothing intrinsic. A young child would just as easily misplace or lose a flawless diamond as he would any other scrap of carbon, like, say, coal, because diamond is not inherently distinct, eye-catching or apparently worthwhile. Have you ever been to a dimly-lit jewelry store?
Even the most ardent diamond-loving enthusiast is forced to cut a diamond just so and then place it in a "setting" in order to trick himself or herself into believing there's something captivating about the rather blah crystal atop a gold, platinum or silver masterpiece. As a matter of fact, the most famous diamonds are colored and look like a knock-off of a sapphire, ruby, emerald, amethyst or tanzanite. In my youth, my favorite gemstones were some of the really colorful and interesting and rarer ones: agate, malachite, lapis lazuli. Only as adults have we agreed upon this shared conceit: the most common gemstone made from the fourth most abundant element in the galaxy is special, rare and desirable to the point of throwing resources at it in an amount which could cure worldwide thirst, hunger and homelessness for all time. It's madness. Still think diamonds are so rare? Ok. Do you know any adult who's never owned, bought or seen a diamond? Now, do you even know two non-geologists or non-enthusiasts who've seen orange opal in person?
Empty conventions are heavy burdens to carry. They weigh us down, misallocating our energy and resources. We may give up meaningful time with loved ones or even lifelong dreams in order to gird up these popular contemporary fables. They rob us of our lives in the most extreme cases. I pick on diamonds to begin with because we have such emotional and even fiscal investment in keeping the lie alive. But, alas, it is a lie, and an obvious one at that. Go ahead and factor in the artificial price control of diamonds, with a certain mining corporation keeping most out of circulation, the abundance of even those in circulation cannot be denied.
Like diamonds, there are many many shared conceits on which we all just tend to agree. They're nonsense. But agree we do. You might catch yourself nodding in agreement when you hear someone say she's eating breakfast to have fuel for the day; but the leanest athletes on planet earth have over 30,000 calories of ready energy in store. "What about brain food?", you volley. Why would you pull blood out of your head and into your digestive organs for two to four hours to improve brain function? The most highly cited neuroscientist in the world, Dr. Mark Mattson, recommends fasting as the number one protection for the brain.
In some cases of conventional wisdom, agreement appears like a must. Take antiperspirant, for example. Deodorant makes sense. But antiperspirant? Why in the heck would anyone ever think that plugging pores with aluminum is healthy? In this instance, we may not just be wasting our money or lowering our IQ, we may be giving ourselves cancer. But it's so every day. It's so generally accepted, that to even imagine questioning it, seems foolish.
When first kicking around the idea for this article, my wife mentioned an idea that's been gaining a lot of traction in the conventional wisdom sphere as of late: smoothie equals healthy. Somehow someone somewhere started convincing people that jamming blended fast-acting sugar into your body, bypassing the slow process of chewing and digestion, is a good idea. Sure. There is a place for juicing and cleanses for limited duration. But cramming a bunch of fruit into a blender so that you can spike your blood sugar and insulin higher than would ever occur in nature is helpful how? I'm not saying it's wrong for all people for all time. I'm simply saying, are you even asking why something like this might be worth your while?
There's a great parable about a family who has a tradition of cutting the end off of the ham before they cook it for a holiday dinner. A young girl asks her mom, "why do we cut the end off of the ham?"
Her mom says, "sweetie, that's what we've always done."
"Yes, but why?", the girl insists.
"Well, let's ask grandma," her mom retorts.
It turns out that grandma also appeals to tradition: "It's just what my mom always did."
This of course does nothing to quell the inquiring young mind. So, they ask great grandma. Great grandma, thinking hard to her childhood, says, "my mother cut the end off the ham, because that was the only way it could fit into the one single cooking pan she had."
I find that people tend to know of the story about the Emperor's New Clothes, but they don't know the story. Even if you do know the story, you might have missed the moral. The moral isn't that you are the child who tells it like it is. The moral is that you are one of the majority who live out meaningless convention. You are, I am, we are the ones who categorically do not tell it like it is. All of us, hoping not to look foolish, stupid, or childish, play along; and we refuse to admit that the emperor is wearing nothing. No one reads that story and cries out, "dumb kid! Those adults obviously had it right." Without exception, every audience member gets it. So then, if every audience member understands this story, who do you think are the majority of people who are fooling themselves? Spoiler: it's all of us, especially the ones who pride themselves on being just like that uninhibited truth-telling kid.
Now, what are the "diamonds" in your life? Why are you cutting the ends off your hams? Why are you pushing chemicals into a duct whose sole natural function is to let sweat out? Why are you patting yourself on the back for taking a whole food and turning it into a processed one? Why do you have a hard time losing weight or focusing your mind when you're eating a healthy breakfast and small meals with whole grains throughout the day?
The questions alone are uncomfortable. Their answers, if even possible to grasp, may be more so. It all goes back to the concept of the unexamined life, which Socrates warned us about a few thousand years ago.
Without going too far down the rabbit hole, the tough questions I work with on a regular basis are related to fitness, nutrition and healthy lifestyle. I've personally been on both sides of most debates, so I don't care a whole lot for proving anything anymore. I'm more fascinated with how to help any willing individual unshackle himself from a belief which is really tying him down, or how to help get him out from under a limiting convention that's preventing him from achieving some of his deepest needs. I guess, to put it more succinctly, do you want to be right or do you want to be rich?
Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?
Do you want to be right, or do you want to be healthy?
Do you want to be right, or do you want to be lean?
Do you want to be right, or do you want to be strong?
Do you want to be right, or do you want a great marriage?
Do you want to be right, or do you want a great workplace?
Do you want to be right, or do you want to be healed?
Do you want to be right, or do you want to improve?
Quite recently, I met with a former colleague who had just attended a fairly intense and intensive seminar where this concept ran in the foreground. As she put it, most of our life experience and interactions are couched in a context wherein we are always right and others are always wrong. However, in that seminar, the ever-deeper questioning is leveled: what do you get out of being right and someone else being wrong? In one of the most extreme examples, an attendee was describing the horror she was going through, trying to protect her daughter from her abusive ex-husband. The moderator very coolly said, "so you're right; and he's wrong."
The woman confirmed, "yes."
The moderator followed up, "so what do you get out of being right?"
The woman answered, "nothing; that's just how it is: he's wrong - he's been wrong."
The moderator further pressed, "so, let me get this straight: you don't get anything out of being right?"
The woman cut in more insistently, "no, he just is wrong."
The moderator ended the exchange with this rhetorical question: "what might you get out of it if you weren't right and he weren't wrong?"
The exchange may feel heartless, unsympathetic or morally equivocating. However, the outcome was that this woman ultimately admitted to and even apologized to her ex-husband for persistently accusing him of being in the wrong and always having held herself on a pedestal. He came to the last day of the seminar to support her; and they at least began an endeavor to co-parent with a never-previously-imagined sense of cooperation.
It's easy to get so wrapped up in being right about something that makes you angry, dumb, fat, poor, sick and dying, that it's just unfathomable to contemplate being wrong. But facing the error in your ways starkly frees you up to enjoy life like never before. I'm not saying that your sadness, failed relationships, diabetes or arthritis are always products of you being wrong. But... what if they were? Or, at the least, consider the endless possibilities if you weren't right (and, in some cases, others weren't wrong).
That's the angle I'm sticking to. If there's someone out there who's got a six pack, great energy, great sleep, ample sex drive, perfect digestive and mental health, and she's otherwise fulfilled and unconcerned about the effects of eating gluten all day every day, outside of trying to save her some time, I'm not going to preach at her the benefits of removing grain proteins from her diet. Every chronic disease, aging itself and every physical dysfunction is related to inflammation, which glucose metabolism feeds and ketone metabolism starves; but, unless someone is ready to hear about carbohydrate restriction, intermittent fasting and/or ketogenic dieting, I won't belabor the point. If someone is happy, a fulfilled and contributing member to society, but supports some questionable political positions, I'm not going to preach at him about changing his mind. And in keeping with this promise, I'm not going to try to convince any De Beers board members that diamonds are worthless, because the belief isn't really in their interest. I'm sure they're completely at peace with the status quo.
However, if you're the buyer, if you're not where you want to be, it might be time to consider an alternative. And when you do, you just may find that having been wrong is the best thing that ever happened to you. And that would be exceedingly... rare.