Exception to the Rules

April 22, 2011

When do I make an exception to NSE rules?

When the stuff comes with the promise of lifelong companionship.

This weekend, diamond ring in hand, Channing asked me to marry him, and despite his flagrant violation of my no-gifts pledge,* I said yes, ring and all.

The ring is pretty and sparkly, and I love it. Still, I feel conflicted—but not about breaking the rules. I read chapter 1 of The Story of Stuff only a few weeks ago and learned all about the processes of extracting rocks and metals from the earth. The gold mined for my ring—just my one little ring—likely created twenty tons of hazardous waste. And the diamond was likely mined in an open pit—that is, a huge swath of land cleared of trees and inhabitants and layers of earth until the ore is exposed. Processing the ore involved enormous amounts of water and chemicals, as well as workers potentially laboring under oppressive conditions.

The bit of good news about the diamond is Channing bought it from a company that actually has ethical sourcing information on its website. The company, Blue Nile, adheres to the Kimberley Process, an international initiative to stop the flow of rough diamonds used by rebel groups to finance wars against legitimate governments in places such as Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, the Congo, and Zimbabwe. The bad news is the Kimberley Process, which has been around for eleven years, is probably not 100 percent effective, especially when it comes to cracking down on human rights abuses at diamond mines. Also, the Kimberley Process certification system is flawed. Several of the initiative’s African member-states have weak internal controls and cannot accurately track the origin of their diamonds. Yet those diamonds may enter circulation with conflict-free certification.

I talked to Channing about all this on Wednesday and asked him what to write. He said, “Write that you’re conflicted, but you’re going to keep it.” Well, of course I’ll keep it. It is the most meaningful thing I own. Channing spent a lot of time picking out the rock and the setting and arranging covert deliveries and pickups. I’ve never been so surprised by a gift in my life. A week later, I am still in shock. The ring is special to me, and I will treasure it. (And, by the way, I’m pretty darn excited about getting married to this guy. He is the most accepting and generous person I know, and he never fails to amuse me.)

I’m telling myself that my diamond came from one of the conflict-free countries that supplies Blue Nile—maybe Australia or Canada—so that I worry only about the environmental damage it caused. Also, I will definitely make careful decisions about jewelry in the future. We do have the issue of wedding bands to confront.

On that note, let me say we’ve already started brainstorming a “low-stuff” wedding celebration: consignment shop wedding (sun)dress, locally grown food, no registry, no gifts, etc. I should have a lot to write about in the next few months.

*Shortly after he presented the ring, Channing said something like, “It isn’t an heirloom and I didn’t get it at a pawn shop, so you have definitely broken the rules.”

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4 Responses to “Exception to the Rules”

  1. Channing Says:

    While I didn’t give much thought to gold mining when I purchased the ring, I did give some thought to conflict diamonds. Any way you look at it, though, it was a wise purchase; one that I too will always treasure. And if you’re going to break the rules… do it big!

  2. Mary Bellamy Says:

    Congratulations! I am so happy for both of you. A No Stuff wedding shower will be a challenge, but so much fun.

  3. Bernice Says:

    For the wedding, how about fabric “roses” (little bags)made from green-bag scraps to hold birdseed. Makes a nice table centerpiece until it’s time to throw the seed. And follow the Quaker tradition of a pot-luck reception, throw in the Lutheran tradition of bringing your own re-useable dishes and cutlery to the potluck… Any way you celebrate it – congratulations!

  4. Sarah Says:

    Another more responsible diamond choice might be to get a machine-made or lab-created diamond. That’s what mine is. It looks great and doesn’t come with any of the mental heartache associated with the mined diamonds. They’re also cheaper. It does however, probably still generate a ton of waste to make.


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