Galileo. Chapman. Caravaggio. Mapplethorpe. Einstein. Rushdie.
We'd all like to think we're geniuses; that we already know all the rules backwards and forwards. That we are brilliant enough to recognize which ones are inviolable and which are outdated, outmoded, and that we (maybe only we) can forge a bright, new path forward.
Culturally we admire and celebrate these people. We scoff at the backwards morons who kept Galileo locked away in his house for the rest of his life when he was right and they were wrong. We sneer at their lack of imagination and commitment to an ill-informed status quo.
We identify with these rule-breakers and hope that we can find some facet of the world where we can make our mark because we might be one of them.
Sometimes it's true.
Rarely enough that the numbers dictate that you are probably wrong.
It's a fine line between progress and recklessness. And if you are wrong about what you think you might know the numbers also demonstrate that you are likelier in the later category than the former.
The quote, "Learn all the rules so that you can break them," has been variously attributed. I, myself, definitely believe it.
But I do not believe I know all the rules.
My focus in this world, obviously, has become diving. I'm pretty good at it. I'm a pretty good diver, I'm a pretty good instructor. I feel as though I have made a contribution, if not to the dive world as a whole, to the lives of people exploring various levels of the sport. But not a week goes by, 17 years later, that I, too, don't learn something valuable.
There are some places where I have identified holes, so to speak, in the rules. There are places where I see the rules routinely violated. In these cases I do my best to patch things up.
What I don't do, however, is claim to have all the answers. And I certainly don't dismiss the thoughts, opinions, and experience of the people who have been doing things longer than I have.
Because, and this is the real crux of it:
There have been times (in various aspects of my life, not just diving) when I think I have discovered a wonderful solution to a problem... something revolutionary that, obviously, no one has ever thought of before... after all, if they had, everyone would be doing it!
And then I talk to someone who says, "Yeah, we tried that in 1993. It doesn't work and here's why..."
Blow to the ego? Yeah, I guess. Disappointing? Yeah. But you know what? Now that's a thing I don't have to think about anymore. Like a scientist who has conclusively disproved a theory one can now focus their mental energy elsewhere.
You know what I'm not going to do? Argue, rant, rave, and do it my way anyway so that I can get the endorphin rush of being right goddamn it!
As divers, especially at technical levels, a lot of the rules are written in obituaries.
It's a fine line between progress and recklessness. Sometimes it can be hard to determine, without access to ALL the information, what is stale and obsolete versus tried and true. It can be hard to determine what is groundbreaking and subversive versus what is ignorantly hazardous.
When the people who have been doing things way longer tell me things may be this way or that, just as often as not it's because they've seen someone do it my radical new way and die.
Of course there are some people who have been doing a thing for ages... but doing it badly and can be safely dismissed. But there are just as many people who, when they talk, you need to shut the fuck up and listen.
Besides, hell, it's diving. We are not redefining the universe nor changing the direction of global art forever. In the grand scheme of things: it isn't that important. Staying alive for your friends/family/pets is.
But here were are, in the time of flat-eartherism, moon-landing and climate-change denial, and anti-vaxxers. Everyone likes to think they're an expert. But we're mostly just idiots.