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Pilgrim, is it Diamonds or Gold?

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Whether it’s Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful WarriorThe Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Epictetus’ Enchiridion, Brenee Brown’s Daring Greatly, or ADM James Stockdale’s Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, it seems we’re all on a journey of some kind.  I’ve been exploring this recently after the eternal question was presented to me under a new metaphor.  While on a journey which way do you go?  Which way is “true?”  Do I take “…the road that leads to nowhere…or the road that leads to you?”  The framework of this particular question offers three possible ways to go.

“…one way leads to diamonds, one way leads to gold, another leads you only to everything you’re told…”

I asked myself which do I seek? Diamonds, gold, or what I’m told?  Which do you seek?  What does it mean to seek diamonds versus gold?  Or what I’m told?  I’ve never really been one for doing what I’m told so I had a look at diamonds and gold.  What are their characteristics and properties?  How do they behave and how are they valued?

Diamonds and gold are both valuable in their natural state and gain very little when refined.  Diamonds, like gold, are precious, tradable, and symbols of status, beauty, and wealth.  It’s here the similarities between diamonds and gold abruptly end.

Diamonds are not adaptable.  They are the hardest jewel on the planet.  The only thing that can work a diamond is another diamond.  They only learn and respond to their own kind.  Diamonds don’t play well with other materials.  Every other material must adapt to the diamond.  Diamonds have no flexibility.  The value of a diamond comes in revealing its personality rather than shaping and molding it into something beautiful.  A diamond’s value is entirely determined by experts, and from external review and assessment.

A diamond’s value has nothing to do with its material constitution, but everything to do with its brand.  Its material constitution is set forever, and can only be degraded, never enhanced.  Diamonds, composed of the most common element on earth, are formed by a highly violent reaction.  Once you disrupt the history of a diamond or break a diamond into pieces it loses its original value.  Each individual piece has to stand on its own personality and is newly assessed by experts as to its value to others.  Diamonds can only be worked in destructive or irreversible ways.  A diamond is measured in weight carats – an extensive measure.

Gold is measured in purity carats – an intensive measure.  Gold can be worked to strengthen or increase its material constitution.  Gold is a perfectly fungible metal, infinitely adaptable, and can be worked easily.  Gold plays well with other materials.  Gold has no identity.  Gold can be built up and improved.  If melted, added to, and reformed, gold immediately becomes more valuable.  Its value is entirely intrinsic and based solely on the rarity of the metal itself.  Gold pieces are equal to the sum of its parts.  You can never add parts of a diamond together to get one whole.  When you subtract gold from gold the smaller pieces still retain the value of the whole.  Working gold is reversible.

“40 Second Boyd” – COL John Boyd, USAF – developed the OODA Loop, “made more contributions to fighter tactics, aircraft design, and the theory of air combat than any man in Air Force history,” and was nicknamed “Genghis John” and “The Mad Major” for his creative thinking and unwillingness to accept dogma and status quo.  He was also known for reminding young fighter pilots that “one day you will come to a fork in the road,” and you’ll have to make a “decision about which way you want to go.  One way is to be somebody.  Another way is to do something.”  Being somebody requires compromises but gets you promoted.  You’ll be in the club, have a seat at the table, and get the good assignments.

Doing something is contributing something meaningful to those around.  Sharing something you know, are uniquely positioned to share, and if you don’t take responsibility for it, it may never happen.  Doing something is going after something about which you feel strongly.  You won’t have typical social status or notoriety or promotions, and you definitely won’t be everyone’s favorite person.  But you will not have to compromise yourself or what you believe, and your work will make a difference. As COL John Boyd reminded those junior officers,

“In life there is often a roll call.  That’s when you will have to make a decision.  To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

“…one way leads to diamonds, one way leads to gold, another leads you only to everything you’re told…”

From my deathbed, if I were to imagine asking myself what I want my life to have been like, I see two possible visions.  One is an instinctive vision of myself in the future, at my peak of life.  The be somebody view.  Another is an instinctive vision of the impact I might have had on others.  The do something view.

The way I see my journey is, “…one way leads to diamonds, one way leads to gold…”  Diamonds are somebody.  Indomitable.  Beautiful only at their peak.  Unworkable.  They are valued externally.  They are measured extensively.  They are inflexible and do not adapt.  A diamond’s value is in its personality – who it is.

Gold does something.  It’s adaptable.  Perfectly fungible.  Its value lies in its purity.  It has intrinsic quality.  Gold contributes to other metals and readily accepts other gold.  Gold is workable.  Gold has no identity.  It can grow, expand, contract, and reform.  Gold’s value is in its contribution – what it does!

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2 Comments

  1. July 25, 2017 at 2:58 pm — Reply

    One of my favorite posts yet Coleman, love it. The paragraph that hit me the most: “Doing something is contributing something meaningful to those around. Sharing something you know, are uniquely positioned to share, and if you don’t take responsibility for it, it may never happen. Doing something is going after something about which you feel strongly. You won’t have typical social status or notoriety or promotions, and you definitely won’t be everyone’s favorite person. But you will not have to compromise yourself or what you believe, and your work will make a difference.”

  2. Rocky
    July 26, 2017 at 2:08 am — Reply

    This post made my life better. Thank you. Like climbing rope — the different threads you highlight from the classics to Boyd and Stockdale weave around an underlying and universal core truth we all grapple with in our life’s journey. Boyd told his disciples to always do their homework when fighting the good fight, because if you lost your credibility, no one would listen to you. You’d be “hosed.” In that state, it becomes almost impossible to become diamonds or gold, you’ll just be old…

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