Find me a ring with the power to make a happy man sad and a sad man happy

The most resilient design-object is characterised by a degree of rawness and wildness, and as such it is impermanent!

Now, this statement might sound a little odd, as we usually associate resilience with hardiness and durability, which are synonymous to permanence. Nevertheless, the most resilient object is impermanent in the sense that it embraces impermanence and changes.

No matter how we look at resilience and sustainability, designing an object that is meant to be durable by focusing on permanence as something that is fixed, static, or non-changeable makes very little sense. An object that is fixed, totally completed when released into the world, is not created to be used. However, the user phase is crucial in order for an object to be durable. If all usage does is add to the unflattering decay of the object, the user will soon be longing for a new perfectly permanent object to replace the old one.

Design-objects should be designed to nurture and accommodate human life. And in order to make this happen, we can beneficially consult nature for advice on how to rethink the idea that designing permanently stagnated objects is the way to create durable, sustainable things. Nature is governed by transformations, evolution, changes, decay, decomposition, and rebirth. 

Change is the only constant, not only in nature but also in human life.

Designing inflexible, stagnated objects seems like the wrong approach if the objective is to enable and encourage sustainable living. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus is known for having said that no person ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same person. Everything around us and inside us is always in flux. Our days are filled with changes: atmospheric and physical changes in our surroundings; mental and emotional changes in our minds; and physical changes in our bodies.

I heard a Jewish folktale from my yoga instructor that portrays this well.

It goes like this:

“King Salomon once lost a chess game to his most trusted advisor, Benaiah Ben Yehoyada. Being a bit of a bad loser, King Salomon decides to teach Benaiah a humbling lesson by assigning him an impossible task: to find him a ring with the power to make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. Benaiah is given half a year to produce this magical ring. He searches in every corner of the kingdom, but to no avail.

Just as he returns to face the king and admit his failure, Benaiah stumbles into a small and dusty workshop tucked away in a little alley not far from the castle. After one look at the inside of the little store, Benaiah disappointedly turns around to walk away. It is impossible that this goldsmith will have what not even the most famous goldsmiths in the kingdom have ever heard of.

In this moment, the owner — an old and frail man — approaches him and asks how he might help him. Benaiah sighs and shares his quest for a ring that possesses the power to make a sad man happy and a happy man sad. The old goldsmith smiles, nods, and says he might just have what Benaiah is looking for. Stunned, Benaiah waits patiently as the old man rummages in the back of his store.

After a short while the goldsmith returns and hands him an unassuming gold ring. Inspecting the ring, Benaiah discovers an engraved sentence on the inside. Benaiah reads the sentence and his face lights up. He pays the old goldsmith handsomely and hurries back to the castle.

King Salomon watches him approach, looking forward to Benaiah’s admittance of defeat. With a knowing smile Benaiah hands Salomon the gold ring. Salomon frowns, turns the ring in his fingers, and finally detects the engraving.

He reads: “This too shall pass.”

Salomon, in his wisdom, sees that this ring contains the truth. Life is impermanent and everything will pass.”

Yes, life is indeed impermanence, and everything will pass — not least of which, our situational needs and desires. Designing for permanence, for immovability, for fixedness makes no sense, especially not if the goal of the design process is sustainability and resilience.

In nature, an organism must be adaptable in order to survive; it must be able to adjust to new environments or to changes in its current milieu. There are creatures that develop resistance to the venom of predators who hunt them, mice that grow immune to poison — or lice for that matter; I have excessive experience with these little unbelievably resilient critters here in southeast Asia.

There are plants in deserts that develop their stems or leaves to store water in periods of drought.

Human beings are also naturally adaptable to the environment that they live in. People who live in high altitudes — such as Tibetans — have adapted to living with oxygen levels up to 40% lower than at sea level.

The Moken people of the Andaman Sea have eyes that have adapted to see more clearly under water by being able to decrease the pupil-size and change the lens shape — a trait also seen in seals and dolphins. The Moken even go so far as to train their eyes — exercising these skills in their children from when they are babies.

The Swedish scientist Anna Gislén spent three months with the Mokens in 1999, and during that period she investigated their unique underwater vision. She discovered that while non-Moken children — Gislén included a group of European children who were on holiday in Thailand in the research process — were able to train underwater acuity to a degree, the Moken children still had a genetic advantage and their eyes were not irritated by the saltwater as was the case for the European children’s eyes.

In accordance with natural growth and evolution, design solutions should be evolutionary and adaptable in order to be sustainable. Because how can anyone possibly foresee future needs or situations?

The aesthetically resilient design-object embraces change and impermanence by being adaptable and by inviting nourishing, meaningful rhythms into the user’s life. Rhythms that celebrate the changes in life, the diversity and irregularity of materials and resources, and the asymmetry and wildness of raw beauty.


  1. Handwoven textiles from Lombok. I am starting a company called illusi with my friend Maya with the purpose of sustaining endangered crafts in Indonesia (primarily textile-weaving and the creation of natural textile dye), upcycling waste materials, facilitating workshops, and creating empowering opportunities for local artisans.
    Please follow along on Instagram! We are launching in May, but the account is already up and running – and there are a few beautiful photos of the amazingly talented weavers in Lombok we are collaborating with.
  2. More beautiful handwoven textiles from Lombok. The vision of illusi is to create affordable, aesthetically sustainable textiles and garments charged with time and made to embrace decay and user traces. That (in my opinion) is the ultimate design-flexibility and an ode to change.
  3. My beautiful Marius snorkeling by Nusa Penida.

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