“All that glitters is not gold” is a golden rule we must keep in mind each time we deal with people, whether or not they are strangers to us. Undoubtedly, this aphorism enjoys immense popularity since times immemorial due to its continued relevance in our day-to-day lives. The maxim means that we should not judge the nature of a thing or the character of a person by superficial looks, as appearances can be deceptive. Consider the mineral pyrite, which closely resembles gold, but is a gangue mineral and not economically valuable. It is rightly nicknamed as ‘Fool’s Gold’, as people often mistake it for gold. However, one needn’t be a mineralogist to be good at identifying it. Knowing certain peculiar properties of gold which the pyrite does not possess (like high specific gravity of gold) can certainly help in identification.
Positioned in the 11th group and 6th period of the modern chemistry periodic table, gold is an invaluable element and a noble metal, valued for its physical lustre and chemical stability. What gold meant to humans since antiquity is best expressed in the following excerpt from the book Economic Mineral Deposits by Mead L. Jensen and Alan M. Bateman. “Since antiquity gold has been prized as an ornament, as a concentrated form of wealth, and for monetary use. Man’s urgent desire for it in ancient days led to barter, invasion, conquest, colonisation, and exploration in India, Asia, Africa and Iberia.
The first gold rush started under Jason in the Argo. Gold was a strong incentive in the discovery of America, and its greedy acquisition by the Conquistadores was accompanied by treachery, robbery and murder. Man has roamed the world in search of it, exploring far-off parts of the earth and undergoing almost unbelievable hardships and privations. It has little use other than decorative or monetary, but no other substance has been the cause of so much horror and misery, or has done so much good. For over 2,000 years its value has generally increased, rarely decreased. It is still eagerly sought and its discovery is attended by the springing up of new communities, the pushing back of frontiers, and the rising of accompanying agriculture and industry; it has been the forerunner of civilisation in many distant lands.”
However, gold has also had greater metaphorical overtones over the ages, for it has been used to portray the people of value in all its senses. To be cautious with people and to not trust anyone blindly, even those whom we consider as our friends, is well-portrayed in the Shakespearean play of “Julius Caesar”. Brutus joins a conspiracy and treacherously stabs Julius to death. Dying Julius’ last words were “Et tu brute” (meaning, “you too Brutus”), as he did not expect this from his close friend. It was from the name of Brutus that the word “brutal” was derived. It is noteworthy that the one closest to us can also turn out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and betray us.
Many films, novels, poems, songs and plays also teach us not to judge a book by its cover, as in the song “Things are seldom what they seem” in Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘HMS Pinafore’, and the depiction of how people are befooled in the name of God as in the Bollywood movie OMG (Oh My God). George Orwell’s Animal Farm amusingly depicts how the politicians garner support from the commoners through their manifestos, but show their true colours when in power.
The stories we hear of, and our very own life-story can frighten us of being cheated and may make us stay inside our comfort zone and stay away from everyone. However, to stop trusting people and to lead a desolate life filled
with nothing but despair is much worse than taking the risk of trusting people. We must never forget that what appears to be bad might actually be good and what seems to be a curse might actually be a blessing in disguise. While being careful not to commit the mistake of trusting the wrong ones, it must be noted that not trusting the right ones can also be a terrible mistake. In Ramayana, it was Bali’s lack of trust in Sugriva that made him doubt his own brother for a foe and increased bloodthirst in him. Had Bali trusted his brother, he’d have the kingdom to rule and a joyful life with his family.
Assumptions have the potency to ruin lives. Not every assumption of us would turn out to be true. “The Diamond Necklace”, a short story by Guy de Maupassant, shows how a woman with desire to look beautiful ends up losing all her beauty. Mrs. Mathilde spends all the money her husband has saved just to purchase a gown for a ball. Lamenting that she doesn’t have ornaments to wear, upon the suggestion of her husband, she borrows a necklace from her friend Jeanne and loses it. Without informing Jeanne about the lost necklace, Mathilde purchases a similar looking diamond necklace by taking a loan at a high rate of interest to purchase and gives it to her friend. To repay the loan, Mrs. Mathilde and her husband toil hard and live in poverty for a decade. Mathilde loses all her beauty due to which Jeanne fails to recognise her. Mathilde reveals to her friend what happened at the ball and she learns from her friend that the necklace she lost wasn’t really a diamond necklace, but just looks like it. Had Mathilde been good at identifying true diamonds and fake ones, she could have saved her youth, beauty and energy. At least, she could have asked her friend if the necklace really had diamonds, instead of assuming them to be so.
The flowers of Ophrysapifera, an orchid, mimic female bee and this mimicking helps in pollination. The male bees pseudo-copulate with the flowers mistaking it for a female bee. While the bees were just fooled due to their assumptions, sometimes, assumptions can turn out to be fatal mistakes, like insects being trapped by insectivorous plants. Had we stopped making assumptions, our lives would be much better, for we won’t be guilty of taking wrong decisions either by trusting the wrong ones or by not trusting the right ones.
Value of things cannot be assessed by the way they look and beauty is only skin deep. Despite similar appearances of Koel and Crow, Koel is a songbird whose sweet song is ambrosia to the ears, while the hoarse voice of Crow is unpleasant to listen to. We must never forget that “it is what’s inside that counts” and A. J. Cronin’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” depicts this. The narrator notices two shabbily-dressed tender-aged brothers who work very hard day and night by performing various odd jobs. He follows the brothers to find out what they are doing with all the money they earn and finds out that they are doing all this to pay for the medical treatment of their sister. The two brothers were gentlemen despite their shabby appearance, for they decided to work hard to meet the medical expenses of their sister rather than seeking help from others. A lot can be learnt from beautiful lines of the poem “Riddle of Strider”, written by J.R.R. Tolkien for his epic fantasy fiction novel “The Lord of the Rings”,
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
Not just did the humans and technology evolve, but also new kinds of problems evolved. The digital era in which we live has witnessed many people being stalked and cheated by strangers through social media platforms. Trusting people is taking such a huge risk that we would love to be alone. Loneliness can be blissful, but only for some time. We certainly cannot be happy without people in our lives. We need people and it is wisdom that helps us choose the ones who are trustworthy and are true companions.
Ray Lyman Wilbur rightly said that “It is not how much you know about life but how you live your life that counts. Those who avoid mistakes by observing the mistakes of others are most apt to keep from sorrow. In a world full of uncertainties, the record of what has gone before—human experience—is as sure and reliable as anything of which we know.” It is not someone else who cheats us with his/her pleasant appearances or enticing words. We cheat ourselves by making wrong assumptions. To desist from making such assumptions can help us from being betrayed by our own fallacies.