Stabbed By Conventional Wisdom?

Scroll down ↓

See that picture? It’s a hospital visit waiting to happen…

More than once, it’s ended in death. And, it unfolds in millions of households every day.

Take a look toward the middle. Yep, see the knife blade sticking straight up. How many of you have been mildly stabbed by similar silverware set-ups?

We’ve all had certain daily wisdom passed down to us. Little gems we’ve never bothered questioning or testing, because “that’s just the way you do it.”

It’s pretty standard conventional wisdom that utensils go into the cutlery basket in the dishwasher with the handles toward the bottom. Why? Depends who you ask…if you’ve ever asked.

Some folks will tell you it’s because then the food-end gets the best washing and anything left slides down and away from the eating surface during the drying process. Others say it’s because the handle sides are slimmer allowing you to jam more into the basket.

But, what about the knives?

In many households, they just got lumped into the rest of the conventional utensil wisdom. Nobody asked if there were or should be special rules for these far more dangerous implements. Actually, the only time I’ve heard separate rules is in the context of keeping them completely out of the dishwasher because of the risk of in some way de-tempering the blades of fine knives.

So, for the most part, when they end up going into the basket, they go in just like all the other utensils, business-end up. Regardless of how little sense it makes. Because that’s just what’s always been done.

But, this post isn’t about knives, it’s about lives…

It’s about how often we go through life accepting the conventions, decisions, rules and constraints that’ve been handed down by people closest to us and the society around us.

And, how outright wrong, out-moded, outlandish and downright dangerous they can be when applied by rote, with neither knowledge of, nor care about the origins of all those bits of wisdom designed to make our lives more certain.

So, here’s my challenge for you today….

As you find your way through the next 24 hours, question the basic rules, assumptions, limitations and contstraints that guide your daily behavior. Ask if they are guided by true wisdom or, more likely, the desire to not have too think to much about what you’re doing?

Because, all too often…

Conventional wisdom is just another name for living without decision or presence.

And, if the answer’s the latter, it may be time for a little de-fogging.

Curious, too…

What direction do the knives face in your abode?

And, what other things do you do all the time without knowing why?

Join our Email List for Weekly Updates

And join this amazing community of makers and doers. You know you wanna...

50 responses

50 responses to “Stabbed By Conventional Wisdom?”

  1. Debi says:

    At a previous job, I found a sign my predecessor had in her desk and it continues to inspire me. It’s the words “Because we’ve always done it this way” in a red circle with a line through it. But I also have a framed quote from Robert Frost, “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” I think they balance each other nicely.

  2. Darnell says:

    That’s what’s up!!! This post is what the world needs to hear right now.

  3. Ken Gregg says:

    Knives don’t go in the dishwasher. And, if they did, the design of the tray would make them a lot less dangerous than your photo.

    As for conventional thinking, breaking out is going to be a huge task. You have to question everything you do and how you do it.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Homes With TLC, Ohene Ofori and kurio's resource, Rich LoPresti. Rich LoPresti said: RT @JonathanFields Jonathan Fields Stabbed By Conventional Wisdom? […]

  5. Julie says:

    I don’t own a dishwasher, but in my drying rack, all the utensils go eating-end up EXCEPT for sharp knives, which go handle-up for precisely the reason you mentioned. The rest of them are eating-end up so that I can tell what they are easily when I need to reach for something.

    In terms of other conventional wisdom… I’ll let you know later. *grin*

  6. Adam King says:

    Holding my fist up in agreement as the closing song from “Billy Jack” plays in the background…

  7. Niel Malan says:

    In our house the table knives go in handle end first, because they are heavy and dropping them in blade-first breaks the bottom of the basket. Other knives go in with the blade first. Not because of any safety concerns or thoughtful action, I’m afraid, but because it seems logical.

  8. Tim Brownson says:

    Good job you don’t live we me bud as you’d have had no post to write. My wife wont even let me put sharp knifes in the dishwasher because she ‘claims’ it blunts them quicker.

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to live with me so everything is turning out nicely.

    Something you’ll know all about is the publishing business mate. We signed our contract for How To Be Rich and Happy with our French publisher 4 months ago.

    The contract clearly states that 50% of the advance is due on signing.

    When I questioned this with my agent we had this conversation:

    “How come we haven’t been paid as per the contract”
    “It’s always done like this and it takes a while”
    “With modern methods of transferring money etc, what stops them paying when they agreed to?”
    “It’s just always done like that”
    “It just is”
    “I know, but why should it be like that. They are translating our book and working on the launch without paying a thing?”
    “That’s just how this industry works”
    “Oh well I guess that’s ok then, thanks for explaining”

    • nora says:

      your wife is right; knives don’t go in the dishwasher. 😛

    • Natalie says:

      That’s the French way – sit back and sip on wine and eat great cheese until they get around to it. Great story by the way and good luck on the new book – when it finally arrives and you get paid!

  9. Maggie Mae says:

    Absolutely hysterical! My husband and I have been silently arguing about this exact thing. I’ve questioned conventional wisdom in every arena because I have non-conventional children… and it’s my nature to question everything! (Someone once said I’d ruin a wet dream by overanalyzing it… but it’s not ruined for me.) It’s a personality trait that sometimes frustrates hubby, but I’ve explained that if he wants to know why I do something the way I do just ask… I can back up everything I do with solid logic and reasoning based on our specific life and needs. Thanks for the laugh this AM.

  10. Sadly I am dishwasher arranging obsessed and insist on all the cutlery pointing upwards except the knives which must point downwards. (Imagine the search terms that are going to end up on this post, Jonathan! Stabbing and…probably cooking.)

  11. Anne Wayman says:

    lol, talk about unconscious! I don’t recognize the instruction to put utensils in the rack handle down… but I looked at the box that holds them on the drying rack and they are almost all handle down… with no kids in the house I put the big steal knife handle down so it can air dry without rust… tend to put the stainless ones blade down.

    Already caught myself this am saying “something’s always going wrong” because my stove doesn’t have gas. Which isn’t true, lots and lots of things go right in my life. I feel better when I make the switch.

  12. Great post, Jonathan. Thank you.
    To me that sticking knofe is a “think positive” advise, that’s often so liberally dispensed

  13. Yes – we do it all wrong and always have. It’s a wonder we are all still alive. We also light the gas stove without a mask, open the oven for a peep without safety goggles, and never, ever remember to put on hard-toe cap boots when we are taking out the garbage.

    Live dangerously, I say.

  14. Annie Stith says:

    Hey, Jonathan!

    It’s weird you use knives in a dishwasher as an example, because I can distinctly remember my mother explaining why the sharp knives are always placed blade down. Not ALL knives, just the SHARP knives. Dinner knives went in blade up, like the rest of the silverware. I don’t know if she learned it the hard way, or if it made sense to her from the get-go because we didn’t put sharp knives in dishwater in the sink, either. They were left on the counter and washed without sitting in the sink AT ALL.

    I get what you mean, tho. I used to be pretty much an automaton, doing what I was “supposed to.” Fortunately, I discovered by going away to college that I was living my mother’s dream for me. I had NO clue what I really wanted for myself. I began questioning EVERYTHING.

    I cycle thru doing one or the other. After a long period of questioning (and feeling the instability that can go with it), I go back to doing things by rote for a little while. Then I get disgusted by some part of the un-living of my life and rebel against it all again.

    Fortunately, as my age progresses, I spend shorter periods of un-living and longer periods questioning.


  15. I got the best giggle out of this because I literally had a bit of a row with my mum about the knives in the dish basin the other night – after I cut myself on one. I’ve never put the knives (or forks or spoons, for that matter) with the “business end up”. It’s simply dangerous – ok….except for the spoons. If something doesn’t make sense to me, I investigate it. If it still doesn’t make sense, I walk away. If it seems wrong or dangerous, I’ll investigate. If it still seems wrong or dangerous, I walk away. The bottom line is this: If we stop to really take a good look at what’s going on, then we would see the frivolity and folly in a good deal of what’s around us. Sometimes it’s great for a good laugh and sometimes it’s just dangerous.

    We shouldn’t be letting “what’s always been done” dictate how we go about our days. Too often it can be dangerous, in one form or another, and it’s certainly not conducive to moving forward most of the time. Even if it means getting into a bit of a row, put the pointy parts down. Dare to be a bit different, blaze your own path…and be safe doing it.

  16. Pat says:

    Ah, no dishwasher yet (unless I count), but cutting knives get a special place on the counter, are washed separately, and go blade-down in a separate part of the drain rack. We do this due to bad experiences. How many things do we do (or at least question) proactively. That is something I learn more about every day. But I also look for older traditions/wisdom, because there are many treasures of efficiency, safety, and just living that have been passed by because they were “uncool”. Look around, look forward, look back. . . .

  17. Hi Jonathan,

    You really got my attention with this metaphor. So much of what I’ve accomplished has been a result of going against conventional wisdom and the limitations and practices of my family and childhood environment. It is something I must still work on, however, because those limiting beliefs are buried deep inside until something alerts me to their existence. Then I get busy unearthing them.

    Ancient wisdom is still valuable, but must be implemented in the context of our present lives, preferences and desires.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yep, it’s not about ignoring “ancient” widsom (which by the way, is all too often way smarter than modern conventional wisdom), it’s about always asking why…

      • Couldn’t agree more here, Jonathan! Most of us could use a healthy dose of ‘ancient’ wisdom mixed in with all the ‘conventional’ wisdom that has most of us on autopilot.

        In terms of the dishwasher, this is an area where my OCD kicks in pretty strongly. I admit to my love of using the dishwasher, and the thing that has always bothered me about having utensils facing up in the rack is that when you go to remove them, guess what? You have to touch the end that you eat with! That just doesn’t sound right to me. If you put everything in handles up, you can grab them without getting fingerprints (and who knows what else) on the end that you eat with. Seems logical to me.

        Btw, I put the knives in too. Rule of thumb: if it will physically fit, it goes in. That’s just how I roll. 😉

        Thanks for an amusing post, but one that is equally stimulating to end the week.

        • Suzanne Vara says:


          I am with you on this one. Do not touch the end that you eat with. Also, never fails that the handle of something would get stuck in the bottom and you have to dig under the rack to push it up. This way, nothing falls through and you do not touch the part that goes into your mouth.

          I guess I am as OCD as you are. Glad I am not alone!


        • Julie says:

          I am so with you on this one….I don’t know many people who wash their hands prior to unloading the dishwasher so I go in ‘all down’ – including the knives! This has been a fun post. Who knew??

  18. Marilia says:

    Good call on rethinking our assumptions.

    I guess like everyone else I do a lot of things without knowing why.

    I´m grateful to be a mom, because I see that this makes me question life more than I used to, I always try to figure out what am I supposed to pass on to my daughter after all. Being a parent helps a lot in questioning the world.

  19. ahabicher says:

    Great post.
    But how did you come by a picture of our dishwasher?

    We always put the “business ends” up for two reasons:
    1) there is an unverified rumor going around to the effect that this way they get clean easier. Something to do with the water jets, the details are a bit hazy.
    2) putting all the cutlery in pointing the same way you save time sorting the clean utensils back in their drawer.

    Why I wash the “good” knives by hand when I get to them first is because I like them to remain sharp as a, well, knife, so I don’t want them to wait all grimy and dirty for hours like the rest of the bunch, so I clean them then and there, dry them off and put them away.

    Still, there’s a good quote from a fellow called Bernhard Heinsch that fits:

    “Advances are made by answering questions. Discoveries are made by questioning answers.”

  20. Robin says:

    Knives always go in pointy-end down, precisely because I vividly remember my dad washing dishes when I was young… he had all siverware business end up, put his arm down for some reason, and when he lifted it up, there was a steak knife hanging from his wrist!! I always remember this every time I do the dishes, whether in the sink or dishwasher.

    I don’t care what other people do for the most part, if it doesn’t make sense to me, I’ll go about it in a way I can be comfortable about.

    Thanks for the post!

  21. Kat says:

    Which way do the knives point? Away from the hand. We don’t have a dishwasher, so we keep the knives out of the water (nothing like hidden blades underneath suds to make your day), wash them when we’re ready for them, and dry them by hand (so they don’t have to get stuck in the drying rack, thereby becoming pokey and annoying/hazardous).

  22. I point all silverware, including knives, down.

    When I was in the Navy and had scullery duty they trained us to put utensils handle up. That’s because when you take them out to put away you don’t want to handle the eating surfaces after they’ve been cleaned… it would spread germs right back on the utensil.

    So, after that training I’ve always but handle up in the dishwasher. And, I’ve never stabbed myself in the dishwasher.

  23. Moon Hussain says:

    :O ! Jonathan, me and my mate have had extensive arguments about keeping the knives up or down in the dishwasher.

    And I mean extensive! I always want them face down and my mate thinks ‘m being too careful and stupid about the issue.

    You put the whole topic into perspective.

  24. Paul Bennett says:

    Well, when you think about it, why would you ever put a knife that you’ve carefully sharpened into the dishwasher, where it will be blasted with an abrasive solution and then left wet to corrode further along the fine edge you’ve put on it? Never put a sharp knife in the dishwasher. Wash in real hot water and dry immendiately.

    And if you think about it, where’s the blast of abrasive-laden water that’s cleaning your silverware coming from — the top or the bottom? Comes from the bottom in mine, so I put the silverware business-end down, toward the spray. This also has the advantage that the clean silverware is grasped by the handles on unloading. But I suppose you handles-down people always carefully wash your hands before grabbing your silverware by the end that folks will put into their mouths?

    Of course you do.

  25. Steven says:

    I’ve always thought knives (like other utensils) should point up for the reasons you mentioned (they get a better washing). My mom however, perhaps more unconventional than I give her credit for, always puts knives head down (but keeps other utensils head up).

    Following rules is a great way to never change how the world works. We have to always be exploring and experimenting new ways of thinking and acting. Good post Jonathan!

  26. Hank Merkle-a huge JF fan! says:

    The story goes:
    The daughter is helping her mother with dinner. She has asked her Mother to show her how to make a roast. The mother instructs the daughter to cut both ends off the roast, places aluminium foil over it and then into the oven it goes!
    At this point the daughter starts asking why.
    Why do you put the aluminum foil on the roast?
    Why that is to keep it moist since it will be in the oven so long. The daughter says, but Mom with our convection oven it cooks the roast in a lot less time. Do we still need to do it? Yes dear (condescendingly) we have always done it that way!
    What about cutting the ends off the roast? Well dear when your Grandma taught me she explained that there is only one way to make a roast and this is it!
    Both heads look toward Grandma who has just walked in the room hearing a generational lesson going on and says – no dear (to the mother) the reason I put foil on the roast is because the roasting pan I had didn’t have a lid like yours does and I cut the ends of the roast because it never fit in the small roaster pan I owned.

    Moral: when you know why, you can decide if it is still the right way to do it!

  27. makes my heart race. i know it’s cynical, but maybe people would actually wake up to what they’re doing in their lives, and then not accidentally kill themselves.

    The worst form of death i’d say would be the related slow death of unconscious sleep-walking through life….

  28. Tom Bentley says:

    Lucky for me I only wash car parts in the dishwasher.

    • caitlyn says:

      Is there a “Like” button on here?

      As for knives – all knives go blade down. The chef knives get washed immediately in the sink but all the others are in the tray blade down as much for sanitation as safety.

      With forks you can pull them out by the handles even when they are prongs up, same with spoons, but most knives can only be removed by putting your germ-infested fingers all over the part that will ultimately touch your food. No, I’m not obsessive-compulsive, and yes, most of the germs will die in the cutlery drawer by dinner but you just washed ’em, why would you touch ’em?

  29. Evan says:

    I always place the knives facing downwards – and I place them a particular way in the sink – so when I can’t see through the water I still know where they are.

    Most things we do without knowing why.

    I tend to question everything on principle. The problem is that this can lead to being marginalised and categorised as ‘just weird’. This can be a problem – especially when you are trying to sell stuff (people like to buy from those they feel they know, like and trust – being too different can be a problem).

  30. Elle B says:

    As someone who has never owned a dishwasher and never heard that bit of conventional wisdom, I’m seriously wondering…who the heck came up with that slice of stupidity in the first place (pun intended)?

    I’m finding it so bizarre that I actually WILL be questioning everything I do over the weekend. Thanks, Jonathan.

  31. Jonathon,

    This post was incredibly fun to read, but shared really important advice about living intentionally. You can’t make a dent in the universe if you along believing everything you hear.

    p.s you have no idea how much blood I’ve lost from sharp knives sticking straight up in my parent’s house. I’ve vowed that in my own home – things will be different 🙂

  32. Howard K says:

    There is a story about a particular bench on the grounds of West Point that non of the cadets are allowed to sit on. When questioned why no one was allowed to sit on the bench none of the cadets knew why, it was just part of dogma. Turns out that when researched, at one time the bench was painted and at sign was put on the bench that said no sitting. That was the genesis of the “rule” which generations later continues on it’s morphed form.

  33. Another great post Jonathan, thanks.

    Why do they call it common sense when it’s so hard to find?

  34. This makes so much sense, but it obviously not considered by many people. The principle of ‘that’s just the way we do it’ is a stupid principle and is the cause of much that’s wrong in this whole world, when you think about it. Unfortunately no enough people ever do think about it.
    Mindfulness should be the default position, instead of ‘That’s the way it’s always been done.’

    Sadly, ‘common sense’ is an oxymoron and it is a rare thing indeed.

  35. How many times do we as consumers experience the frustration of dealing with a policy or procedure that is either archaic or redundant for no reason except “that is the way it is done”? The challenge is to look to our own organizations and weed out these inefficiencies. This means rolling up your sleeves and getting into the trenches to find those areas that hinder customer relationships or create unnecessary work for employees.

    As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

    By the way, my mother insisted the knives be placed in the basket sharp side up after she had to replace the basket because the knives had damaged the bottom.

  36. Rosie says:

    Funny, when we bought a house it came with a dishwasher though as we’d never had one before (and didn’t RTM) we’ve always put the utensils eating end down. All the knives also go blade down. We never discussed it, that’s just how it’s done around here.

    The dishwasher does a fine job of removing food from anywhere on the cutlery, even food dried on the eating end… I’ll bet modern dishwashers do a fine job of cleaning cutlery eating end down in the basket, but the common (and now out-dated) notion is that that’s the “wrong” way up.

    It’s an easy target, but we can liken this to typing a double-space after a period. (For those not in the know, text produced on mono-spaced manual typewriters and some newspresses was hard to read, so the double space made it easier to see the end of a sentence).

    The advent of personal computers for word-processing and modern printers no longer require us to double-space since printers and fonts are all geared towards better legibility these days, but many people still hit the space bar twice after a period “Because that’s the way it’s always been done.”

    I have this quote above my desk but amended to say “Because that’s the way it’ll always be done… until someone finds a better way!” 😉

  37. […] old dogmas and mindsets that force you to censor yourself and limit your thinking… that allow the perceptions and expectations of others to dictate the terms of your reality instead of your own perceptions and expectations of […]

  38. Mike Fairman says:

    Dave Ramsey has a phrase for this: “shoot the sacred cows.” And Zig Ziglar had a really funny story about doing things just because we’ve always done it that way. Here’s a link to Dave’s version of Zig’s story:

    I find that when my kids ask me why we have this or that “house rule”, I sometimes have to think pretty hard to remember what situation prompted the rule in the first place. But I’m flexible enough that I can abolish the rule if it no longer serves any purpose. In a house where the kids are always asking, “Why? How come? Huh? Why?”, sacred cows don’t survive long!

  39. chef dave says:

    hey, interesting article! haha. honestly, if i have any advice concerning this article. it would be WASH YOUR KNIVES BY HAND. and do it carefully. with dangerous objects especially, it is good to respect them. your dishwasher can ruin your knives and present several possibilities for danger. i know i know, getting people to actually do this will seem tough, even gettting yourself to do it! but this will eliminate any concerns you have with knife safety