How to turn shit into gold

I remember the first time I saw a mobile phone, and I remember my reaction: It was 1989, and a businessman was lugging this brick-of-a-thing down the street, in rapt conversation.

My reaction: How ridiculous! How indulgent! Why can’t he wait ’till he gets back to the office to make a call? My response was something close to outrage. Talkback Radio fodder.

Fast-forward 20 years: We’ve woven the mobile phone into the fabric of our lives. Now try telling someone you don’t have a mobile. Expect a similar derisive response.

I always try to remember my mobile phone story when I’m confronted by something new that I don’t fully understand. I’m learning to recognise the signs: a mocking sanctimoniousness, a complete failure to ‘get’ it, and a sudden urge to ring-up Talkback Radio, or fire-off an angry letter to the editor, signed ‘outraged’ of Glen Waverley.

Society has singled-out contemporary villains that evoke its ire: Graffiti, backward baseball-capping, which, in the new millennium, has given way to that most hated of cultural practices: low-panting (sagging) – you know: the extreme sport of saggy-bottom jeans wearing. The pastime that’s finally legitimated Mother’s hysteria about not going out without clean underwear.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m neither a proponent of low-panting, nor an apologist. What I question, though, is the mechanism in the human psyche that starts with “what the…?”, and leaps straight onto the express train to “how moronic.”

How many detractors do you think Levi Strauss had when word got round the gold-mining camps that he was sewing old canvas tents into pants? You can imagine the chatter at the local saloon that night:

“Did you see the getup that old Levi was wearing? (lol) Reckons he gonna sell ’em.”

“Reckons he gonna sell ’em? Why, clearly the man’s a fool!”

Uproarious laughter and much mirth ensues at the bar. All the while, our hero is hunched over Ma Strauss’s Singer, the flicker of candlelight illuminating the manufacture of what would eventually evolve into 501’s, and a billion dollar business.

Who’d have picked canvas-panting to take off like that?

There have been plenty of things that put me squarely at the bar with the other Levi-detractors, and those suspicious of pants-variations in general:

When Twitter was explained to me a few years ago I laughed out loud (I’ve since embraced it as an awesome tool to connect with people and information). I’ve also noticed that, increasingly, I’ve closed my mind to much contemporary art – a growing suspicion rising in me that I’m somehow being conned.

What I think is really going on in me is the challenge of dealing with change. Humans have an inbuilt survival mechanism that drives us to carve meaning out of chaos; but just when we create some semblance of order they go and shift the goalposts again. This gives rise to fear, and its bastard child: outrage. Which keeps Talkback Radio in business.

Do you have any pet bugbears that provoke your ire? What if you were to temporarily set aside your judgement? It’s your judgement, you own it, and you can return to it at any time. Be safe in the knowledge that no thief will purloin it if left unattended for a few minutes.

The next step is to approach the object of your outrage with genuine curiosity. If you know a low-panter, ask him why. Ask him why like you really care, and you might learn something. Or, you might learn nothing. The result of your investigation may merely confirm your suspicions. Here’s the thing: there’s probably things that you do, things that conform to all your laws of logic, but are the equivalent of low-panting to others.

The cool thing about relinquishing your judgements about others is that, through the process, it’s often reciprocated. It also opens up paths and opportunities that a narrow mind had previously shut out. Be discerning, but row away from the rocks of your own cynicism.

Are there any opportunities under your nose that you’ve written off that may be worth re-evaluating? Ideas that could bring you some benefit, or teach you something? Why not try dipping your toe into the pool of your own indignation? Try it as an exercise: When outrage strikes, ask yourself why you’re reacting so strongly. What’s it setting off in you? Chances are, it’s more about what’s going on inside you. Then you learn something about yourself. And that’s what alchemy is all about: turning shit into gold.

© Ryan Spanger 2010

Further reading

The History of sagging

Sagging is illegal in some places

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10 Responses to “How to turn shit into gold”

  1. On 03/06/2010 at 6:58 AM Steve Sammartino responded with... #

    Great Article Ryan. I’ve been guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit.

    great Stuff,

  2. On 03/06/2010 at 7:19 AM Dass responded with... #

    Great blog! You have inspired me to embrace my curiosity and my low panting brethren.

  3. On 03/06/2010 at 8:27 AM Damian responded with... #

    I just laughed out loud at the airport lounge.
    “Gold”… and totally on the money.

  4. On 03/06/2010 at 8:43 AM Ender Baskan responded with... #

    Awesome post Ryan,

    I’ve been thinking quite a bit about your notion of the moving goalposts and the disruption to the status quo that prompts fear. I believe that the status quo is as fragile as everand with this we have both greater uncertainty and opportunity. A new dilemma.

    We just have to look at the role of the elderly in society to see that the human race is in a biological race to keep pace with the ever accelerating rate of technological progress. Generations ago when the rate of technological progress was much slower, the elderly were revered and respected for their wisdom. Nowadays, they are relagated to being a burden on society by the rapid rate in which our lives are fundamentally altered each decade, and perhaps soon each year.
    The changes we have witnessed in the past two decades are no doubt greater than the previous two and so on.

    So ultimately I absolutely agree, we’ve got to confront our fear that is derived from rapid change and seek the clarity required to recognize the equally growing abundance of opportunity.


  5. On 03/06/2010 at 11:58 AM ryanspanger responded with... #

    Thanks Steve, Dass and Damian. Really glad you enjoyed the post.

    Ender: thanks for sharing your thoughts about society’s rapid rate of change in the context of its effect on the elderly.

    Technology has given rise to a glut of information, but it has not necessarily accelerated the dissemination of wisdom, which the elderly, as a group, possess in spades.

    While it’s unlikely that retirees will embrace low-panting, as our world races towards terminal velocity, the wisdom of the elders becomes an increasingly valuable commodity.

  6. On 03/06/2010 at 11:58 AM Rob responded with... #

    Well said Ryan, great post.
    We’re all in support of freedom of choice in this here world of ours, so then why are we just as quick to negatively judge an individuals actions because they aren’t complying with our sometimes over exorbitant, idealistic views??
    Little to lose but lots to gain by opening your mind…

  7. On 08/06/2010 at 6:18 AM Adrian Elton responded with... #

    Hey Ryan,

    Taking on the proponents of low-panting for a moment. They’re not just doing it in a neutral way. They’re doing it, however subconsciously, to mark out their territory as part of a youth tribe who have a desperate investment in seeing themselves as wholly different to all the other tribes who don’t wear their pants in that way. And it’s a challenge because it is based in the ‘fuck you’ sentiment inherent in the act of insinuating their arses on those who would rather not have to contemplate them. Of course down the line of symbolic dilution it will be absorbed and become a neutralised fashion nuance but for the moment it’s the best way to give the world the finger (or the arse) when you’re not facing them.

    Adrian 🙂

  8. On 21/06/2010 at 11:04 AM Rena responded with... #


    Great stuff…free your mind by looking within.
    Visionary people definitively see opportunity where others may fear to tread,judge and see only the devil.
    Being curious about one’s own inner response to the outside world’s changes is a great challenge.New is not necessarily better…or as you say worse.
    As a parent to two young boys, here’s to hoping ‘low-panting’ will still be the devil of their day because what will life be like tomorrow? And I’m an optimist. Hurray to accountability of one’s small mindedness or heartedness though, a great place to start.


  9. On 05/07/2010 at 1:15 AM Robert responded with... #

    Yeh but what about suits? They’re a uniform implying uniformity, obedience to orders, marching in step. So if I’m a ‘suit’ does that mean I lack originality, that I’m afraid to stand out from the ranks of the other privates and non-coms? In a suit is there no room for creativity? Are there punishments for standing out? Will I do whatever I’m told whether it conflicts with what I believe to be right, productive, good for the company. “Into the valley of death road the 600”. Stupid but brave – pointless yet glorious – wasteful yet beautiful. Does my suit mean that I honor compliance above speaking out against blinkered and irrational decisions?

    I was a ‘suit’ for much of my life and for so much of the time I felt like I was playing a role – “look at me – don’t I fit in well – aren’t I singing the company song at the top of my voice”. Now I look at suits much the same way I look at ‘low-hangers’.


  10. On 08/07/2010 at 1:42 AM ryanspanger responded with... #

    You’re right, Robert: There’s just as many assumptions and judgements made about ‘suits’ as any identifiable cultural subspecies.

    And I think you’re probably on the right track about people being driven by the desire to fit in.

    Aren’t humans interesting – we desperately want to fit in while, at the same time, be perceived as being different and unique 🙂

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