Back in college I took a geology class because I was looking for an easy way to fulfill a science requirement. The class was interesting and not particularly difficult. After the first few weeks I was ranked #2 in the class and was certainly overly proud of myself.
One morning when we arrived at the classroom the door was locked. There was a sign on the door that said we would be assigned to specific stations that day based on our class rank. Below that was a list of the students, with a number by their name indicating which station they would be at for the day.
Before long, the teacher opened the door and announced that we would be studying gemology that day. He let us in to find our assigned seats. As we settled in, I noticed that half of the stations had microscopes and other instruments for closely examining small stones. The other stations had a pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass.
Since my station had the microscope, I assumed that all of the kids on my side of the classroom were the top of the class and because we had worked so hard, we were given the extra benefit of superior tools.
Once we were all settled, the professor told us that we would be having a competition that day. He was going to give each group some precious stones to evaluate. He wrote the average price of each type of stone on the chalkboard. Our job was to evaluate the size, weight, cut and clarity of each stone and then make an educated guess as to the value it held. The team that came closest would be given extra credit points on the upcoming exam.
This almost seemed too easy! There was no way that the other team would be able to pick up on the imperfections in the stones with only a magnifying glass. They’d just have to guess by looking at how “pretty” it was or if it just “looked expensive.”
I got even more excited about our chances at victory when I started to look through the microscope. With the enormous magnification I was able to see all of the discrepancies in the stone that would decrease the value. Every stone had them to some extent. There was no way the other team would see them. We had this in the bag.
We confidently submitted our estimated prices for each of the stones.
As to be expected, the “B team” had grossly overvalued their gems. Their prices for each stone were much higher than ours. It wasn’t their fault, they just couldn’t see the imperfections.
We waited with a smirk on our faces as the teacher began to unveil the actual price of each gem.
To our shock and horror, the gems were worth a lot more than we had estimated. In fact, we were generally lower by about 50% in every instance. Not only that, across the board the other team was within 3% of the actual cost. We had not only lost, we had been humiliated.
So what happened?
The professor paused for a moment as the chatter and cheering died down, then he explained to us where we had gone wrong.
“The value of a gem is in the appearance to the eye.” he said. “The way it sparkles, the way it shines. It is based more on how you feel when you see it. It is true that a gem with less imperfections will tend to sparkle better but that is not always the case. Some of the most brilliant diamonds in the world look crystal clear from one side but if you take a microscope and look from another angle, you will always find an imperfection. A gem’s value is more in the way it sparkles and not so much in it’s imperfections.“
I was stunned and a little angry. He had set us up! He played upon our pride to make us think we were better equipped and smarter than the other students. He led us right into his trap! I was really bothered for a couple of hours until I realized the point he was teaching. He was teaching me something important about life, not just about gems.
I was reminded that day that we all have imperfections. Every one of us. That is what makes us unique. But often times we start to look too close at our imperfections or the imperfections of others. We whip out our microscopes and start analyzing every little blemish as though it were enormous. The more we focus on the imperfections, the less we see of the person’s “sparkle”. In the end, it is the way that we “sparkle” and “shine” that determines our value, not the size or amount of our imperfections.
Take home messages
- Let’s avoid looking at people with a microscope to find their faults, blemishes or habits that we don’t agree with. When we do, we vastly undervalue them.
- Many times we look at others with a microscope and ourselves with a magnifying glass. Stop it!
- Many times we look at ourselves with a microscope and others with magnifying glass. Stop it!
- A person’s value is in the way that they shine in life! It is in the way they bring happiness to others, in spite of their own faults and imperfections.
It is my hope that we can all shine brightly and never undervalue ourselves or someone else.
Put away the microscope.
We are all designed to shine!
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