13 October 2010

In Vino Veritas

Blended Panorama in Paria Canyon, UT/AZ - A Fantastic "Small-Risk" Adventure with Friends - April 2007
Pliny the Elder coined the phrase, "In Vino Veritas," which means "In wine, truth." This is perhaps an unwitting double entendre; wine lowers our inhibitions, bringing out some aspects of our personalities that may usually be quelled (the "truth" comes out), but it importantly also provides an interesting analogy into the way we do and could live our lives. (It may, too, be what inspired Russian River Brewing Co to create their eponymous Imperial IPA).

Here's what I mean. You may have heard that one alcoholic drink per day is good for you (which may or may not be true, depending on who you ask). You've also heard that regular moderate exercise is great for you. These both represent the concept of hormesis, in which a small dose of a toxin actually evokes a positive overreaction in the body. Increasing the dose too much can be detrimental (or lethal, depending on the toxin). In our above examples, you could imagine an overdose resulting in alcohol poisoning or perhaps a stress fracture from running too much. However, increasing the dose slowly can allow you to build up a tolerance. This process, called mithridatism, is how people become alcoholics and marathon runners, and it is also how Westley defeats Vizzini in the Battle of Wits.

So what sort of insight can stem from this? How might we live our lives differently?

For one, go take a (small) risk. If you equate the risk to a "toxin," the analogy is apt. Just like one glass of wine per day is good for you (i.e. the "truth" of wine), it's good for you to see and experience something outside of your comfort zone. The more you do it, the bigger your comfort zone gets. This might mean that you try playing tennis for the first time ever, or you say hi to a complete stranger, or you actually dance in the club without the excuse that you "haven't had enough to drink." These things won't kill you; on the contrary, they'll stimulate a positive overreaction in your body. In fact, you can build up a tolerance to these activities, and before you know it, you'll be a star tennis player with all sorts of friends that want to go dancing on weekends.

That's a good segue into another insight: Not everything you can build up a tolerance to is advisable to build up a tolerance to. For example, I advise against becoming an alcoholic. That WILL kill you, or at least ruin your life. Use your intuition. Go take a risk that will help you grow rather than numb your senses. And then tell me: What sorts of insights have YOU had from the "In Vino Veritas" analogy?

Your tennis-dancer friends are waiting.