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The Invisibility of the Obvious
on January 6, 2003
Toward the end of his life, Russell H. Conwell (1843-1925) observed, "I am astonished that so many people should care to hear this story over again. Indeed, this lecture has become a study in psychology; it often breaks all rules of oratory, departs from the precepts of rhetoric, and yet remains the most popular of any lecture I have delivered in the fifty-seven years of my public life. I have sometimes studied for a year upon a lecture and made careful research, and then presented the lecture just once -- never delivered it again. I put too much work on it. But this had no work on it -- thrown together perfectly at random, spoken offhand without any special preparation, and it succeeds when the thing we study, work over, adjust to a plan, is an entire failure." He then went on to explain to each audience that "acres of diamonds are to be found in this city, and you are to find them. Many have found them. And what man has done, man can do. [They are] are not in far-away mountains or in distant seas; they are in your own back yard if you will but dig for them." These comments provide an excellent introduction to Conwell's book. As I read it, I thought about Dorothy in L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. Only after a series of adventures far from Kansas did she realize that "there's no place like home." What Conwell has in mind involves far more than such appreciation, however. The tale he shares in this book, concerning a wealthy Persian named Ali Hafed, demonstrates that almost everything we may seek elsewhere is already in our lives and available to us.