The Peanut Butter Dilemma

More than just a popular spread?

Recently I read an article on the BBC about how some scientists (they are never tired of surprising us) were trying to make diamonds out of… peanut butter! At first I found that quite surprising, not to say extremely odd. However as I read deeper (or better, as it set deeper in my mind) I started to uncover some wise advices that we can give good use to in our daily lives. As a Biomedical Sciences student, in my short experience inside a lab I have always looked to those endless protocols with a simple, but different from what we are used to think, question in mind. Instead of asking myself ‘What is it for?’, I tend to inquire ‘How?’. How did scientists discover that we need a few micrograms of this I-cannot-spell-it-correctly compound and a little bit of water (and a lot of positive thinking) in order to make these cells grow? I know that behind a piece of knowledge we have nowadays, some people have devoted their lives to working and studying, to produce what we are just told and accept that is true.

In fact, as you become more experienced among pipettes, tubes and acids, the tendency is to ask and doubt a lot before assuming anything is real and correct. On the other hand, if you do not ‘risk’ to believe but keep being sceptic, you might as well be a throwback in science and in life as well. At this point you might be asking yourself what is my purpose here? Am I a lab-guru? Certainly not! Do I want to convert you and transform you into a ‘believer’? Others have tried better… and failed. No, I am here to share what I have learned from those guys who want to convert peanut butter into diamonds.

Enough with the science-related puns and theories. My knowledge about seismic events is close to zero on any scale (where zero is, indeed, nothing), therefore do not expect anything accurate. I cannot not use any biological concepts in this matter either. What I really learned by reading the article came to mind later and struck me fiercely. You might think I am an eccentric specimen and I do not blame you, but this peanut-butter-to-diamond-transformation taught me, or at least made me think about how I am living my life. You may need some creativity to see things the way I see them but isn’t it all about believing?

When I wrote ‘living’ I almost misspelled it for ‘leaving my life’. In a way this is not completely wrong, I think. Aren’t we all leaving this life from the moment we are born? This is a matter for another journey through the lines. As almost every important ‘lesson’ we are taught during life, this one came from a very simple yet somehow conflictual observation. What is the purpose of peanut butter? Clearly this is not the kind of question that disturbs your sleep, at least I hope so, but its simplicity makes everything clear.

As far as I know, people usually spread peanut butter on a slice of bread or make sandwiches. Other uses for peanut butter are open for choice and I do not think they will really matter here. The point is, who came up with the idea to make diamonds out of peanut butter? Again, I do not think that is the kind of thought that goes through our minds very often, but surprisingly, this is not true for a couple of people.

Here I could again use my favourite question word for these situations: ‘How?’, but I will try to focus on a slightly deeper concept. How many times, especially during our academic lives, do we ask ourselves which direction we are taking? It is well known that where we are going is much more important than how fast we are getting there. Sometimes we are pushed so hard by a number of different forces (university, other peoples’ dreams, social pressure, our virtual lack of time to think) in a given direction that we believe – or are forced to – that it is the right one. How long until we realise that we did not make the choices that took us to wherever we will be? Hopefully not too long if you start asking yourself right now.

It takes time and a little bit of courage to slow down our routine and really focus our effort on what matters. A few days ago a friend of mine told me to ‘love what you are doing’, but not only the joyful parts of the academic studies or the experiments that go right, that’s too easy! Indeed he told me to love the boring part, to enjoy trying something over and over again until it works and if it does not work, to appreciate my own effort. He taught me to focus on the process rather than just expecting the results. And he might be right, because if you think critically we spend most of our lives in the development of things (material or ideal). More deeply, we are always developing ourselves.

So saying that let’s put ourselves in the position of the peanut butter. Of course we must make it clear that being used for diamond-making purposes was not the butter’s choice, but the idea is easy to get. Do you want your life to follow a predetermined pathway, usually designed by others? I am not saying you might not have a successful fate, given the fact that peanut butter fulfills its role most of the time, but is that everything?

It might be true that we will not get anywhere by transforming food into gemstones, but the idea is fantastic! Take something and give it another use, another purpose, even if you think it might not lead anywhere. Believe me it will definitively take you somewhere. If we take the peanut butter experiments as an example, we will see that in the process of becoming a diamond it will undergo an enormous amount of pressure and even cause some explosions. That’s life! Do not expect to swim upstream and get lots of help on the way. On the contrary! You might have to face new challenges and overcome obstacles that no one will ever warn you about, and that is obvious; you will be following a path no one has ever tried before.

It is easier and a lot more comfortable to just walk a path others have delineated before you, but it will take you nowhere else than where the others went. You might walk a couple of steps ahead but that will be all. By the end of the day (or the life, in this case) you just did what others did, and that is not enough. Well, it should not be enough.

We must not feel comfortable with the way things are done and how concepts are created until we are innovating and drawing a new line of thought with our own hands. So I beg you this, the next time you look yourself in the mirror, take the time of a breath to ask who is holding the ‘pen’ that is writing your life? If the answer is not clear then take a little more time and think again.

If you decide to follow the well-known paths then go for it! As long as it is indeed, your decision. You must be free to choose and you must feel it. Now if you think you want to turn left when everyone says to turn right, remember not all peanut butters are being spread over slices of bread but they are in fact, precious.

Read the original article here: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141106-the-man-who-makes-diamonds

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