Getting Past Glitter

Mr. Ballou said I could go further than that, and lay it up among my treasures of knowledge, that nothing that glitters is gold.  So I learned then, once for all, that gold in its native state is but dull, unornamental stuff, and that only low-born metals excite the admiration of the ignorant with an ostentatious glitter.  However, like the rest of the world, I still go on underrating men of gold and glorifying men of mica.” — Mark Twain, Roughing It

By Eilene Lyon

Mark Twain relates self-deprecating tales in his autobiographical books, Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi.  In this story, he makes his first attempt at finding gold and silver in the Nevada mines in the 1860s, but is dazzled by glittering flakes in a creek bed.  He doesn’t realize that gold settles down to bedrock, due to its weight.  His experienced partner, Mr. Ballou, quickly points out that Twain has wasted the entire day collecting worthless bits of fool’s gold.

At the end of the tale, he adds not only the obvious lesson, but also this insightful analogy.  It recalls to me our current celebrity-fixated culture – and perhaps more particularly a certain reality-TV-star-turned-president.  Twain reminds us that we really need to remember to look beneath the surface to find the true worth of any individual.

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