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Human Beings: Earth’s Imperfect Caretakers

Since the dawn of civilization, no society has fully grasped what is necessary to live in harmony with its environment

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Before human occupation, forests, not deserts and barren plain, covered the uplands of Arizona and New Mexico. The mighty Mayan civilization, with a population of 200,000 in what is now Mexico and Central America, fell into ruin following human-caused depletion of the rain forests, heavy soil erosion, and internal warfare — 700 years before Columbus’ arrival in the Western Hemisphere.

Misinformation about how societies developed and how their people lived often leads to erroneous conclusions about how present-day society ought to be managed.   Accordingly, what we understand to be historical realities are often distortions of the truth.

Misinformation Abounds

Predictably, the volume of contradictory information and the associated discrepancies it spawns is rising. Annually, well over 40,000 scientific journals publish more than a million new articles.

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“The number of scientific articles and journals published worldwide is starting to confuse researchers, overwhelm the quality-control systems of science, encourage fraud, and distort the dissemination of important findings,” says New York Times science journalist William J. Broad.

Misinformation has become a major impediment to social progress. In these “politically correct” times, in the area of social history in particular, too often pseudo-historians dispense misinformation in the form of “feel-good history,” a term referred to by noted professor and distinguished historian Dr. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in his award-winning book, The Disuniting of America.

Feel-good history is “history” designed to accent or embellish the accomplishments or nature of select groups for purposes other than conveying what historical records objectively reveal. Such accounts cloud the accuracy of historical accounts, presenting events in ways that might not be real or complete depictions of what took place.

American history, as a case in point, has become one of the most maligned of the historical disciplines. To be sure, the U.S. government reneged on treaties and, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes not,  destroyed cultures.

Nonetheless, do misinformed or overzealous teachers and leftist professors have the right to overturn decades of research and analysis in their efforts to present “the untold, untaught side of American history?”

Are they justified in making wholly unfounded assertions about the origins, nature, and achievements of ethnic groups that they represent or who they feel have been slighted by “Eurocentric” versions of history?

Erroneous Beliefs

Consider common beliefs about Native American populations. Evidence is mounting that Europeans pre-dated them in North America, but that is the subject of a different article. Many people today believe that the arrival of Europeans from 1492 was co-terminus with the introduction of disease to native populations.

Europeans did bring with them new diseases, such as smallpox, which proved to be more deadly to North American peoples than it was to Europeans, but by no means were Native Americans free of disease beforehand.

Karl Reinhard, Ph.D., a prominent pathologist, observed that “Native Americans had already accumulated quite a spectrum of parasitic diseases before the Europeans arrived. Take the Incas. We’re looking at no less than three species of lice, not to mention different varieties of fleas, tapeworms, hookworms, the works.”

Actually, all told, American civilization, with all its strengths and weaknesses, is as good and decent a society. Many Americans, however, believe that Native American cultures historically were superior in interacting with one another and in maintaining a harmonious balance with the environment. This view is naive at best and classically demonstrative of the perils of misinformation.

Environmental Novices

Archeologists find that since the dawn of civilization, no society has fully grasped what is necessary to live in harmony with its environment and for its people to live in peace with one another.

In the last 10,000 years of civilization, for example, remarkably little has changed in the way in which people treat their surroundings. Dr. William K. Tabb, one of my economics professors in college, remarked to our class that economics in essence was the “allocation of scarce resources.” Only when a society has to manage limited resources is it an “economic” society.

Let’s apply this to the case at hand. Some Native American nations starved during harsh winters. Some could not care for all their members. On a continent as large as North America, most Native American nations were blessed with vast stretches of land, often more than they could use.

In that sense they were not “economic” societies. In comparison to today, natural resources were plentiful. Because they did not live in economic societies, it is hard to determine to what degree many Native American nations practiced sound environmental policy.

Vast Stretches

Vast sections of the southwestern United States, for example, were completely decimated by over-cutting. Dr. Charles Redman, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, says, “The idea of the primordial paradise, that pre-European societies were somehow great environmentalists, is romantic history.”

The cliff-dwellers, with their elaborate wooden structures, likely sealed the ecological fate of their region for evermore. In the Eastern U.S., the Cherokee removed such large swaths of forest along riverbanks  — not coincidentally, some of the areas now most carefully protected by environmental legislation — that Europeans entering some areas thought there were no trees.

Illness and injury were treated with natural remedies, many of which worked and are still viable solutions for health problems today. It would be unwise, however, to surmise that all Native American nations at all times were populated by wise dispensers of health information that uniformly fortified their people.

For acute illnesses, major injury, and rare disorders, most nations could do little for the afflicted and, if they sought to do anything, would do more harm than good. Operations were crude. Medical hygiene was all but unknown. Many “treatments” hastened the death of the patient rather than alleviating the condition.

Human Rights or Tribal Mythology?

Many contemporary Americans believe that Native American nations were exemplary in their homage to human rights. This issue cannot be summarily concluded. Some groups were effective in upholding human rights; some were not.

Many people within nations paid homage to human and individual rights; many people did not. In some  nations, elders were cast out of the tribe to die on their own once it was believed that their final days were near.

Some nations, and many individuals within many nations, were intolerant of homosexual behavior or other sexual and personal orientations that deviated from the norm. Many nations maintained rituals and customs that forced individuals into predetermined roles independent of their individual aspirations or aptitudes.

As cited previously, some nations maintained elaborate rituals and rites of passage whereby young men were summarily cast into battle. Or, young men had to fight and kill a wild animal, perhaps with nothing more than a knife or a spear. They then would have to return with the animal’s vital organs to prove their “manhood.”

Paradise, Not

In many nations, everyone was expected to pull his own weight-not necessarily a bad idea, as societies go-but what fate befell those who proved to be less physically endowed?

Some nations permitted polygamy, whereby one man was permitted many wives, usually with no say on the part of the maidens thrust into service. Still, many Native Americans loved the earth, lived in harmony with it, and lived in harmony with each other. Their poetry and chants often reveal the kinship they felt with the earth.

Let us avoid the trap, however, of sanctifying those who were here before us because some of them, in some respects, embodied environmentally and socially redeeming virtues needed today.

Let’s not paint in our minds and post in our literature exalted, vague notions of environmentally and morally superior peoples whose ageless wisdom is somehow quintessential to our survival today.

Learning From Our Past

The lesser-known side of Native American history is one example of how history can be skewed to reflect a certain set of ideas. There are, of course, other examples throughout world history.

It’s vital that we draw what we can from the knowledge of such cultures and be respectful of their heritage. Let’s forsake the counterproductive mythology that seeks to rewrite history to match the flawed ideology of a few.

Instead, let’s learn what we can from the actual lessons and experiences of history, and use that knowledge to improve as a society.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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News

Tech Tools Leading to Our Fast-Forward Future

Researchers will likely develop nearly every tech tool you’ve seen in science-fiction movies and television

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Lowell Catlett, a retired professor in Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, observes that all the high tech products on your desk and in your home will soon be antiques from a capability stand point. The almighty chip grows smaller and more powerful, and thanks to advanced microscopics, they’re proceeding towards a time in which the chip will be no thicker than a fraction of a human hair. In fact, microscopic motors today are no thicker than a human hair!

A World of Marvels

Scientists and engineers will likely soon develop nearly every technology you’ve ever seen in sci-fi movies, Superman comics, and all of the versions of Star Trek. Many miraculous breakthroughs are available now, but simply are not cost-effective for the masses. Existing sunglasses – far beyond the ill-fated Google Glass – allow you to watch any television show while you’re wearing them, wherever you are.

As “sun glass” technology is perfected, future models can be built right into your eye. You’ll automatically have protection from sun glare as daylight levels change. Laser technology in sunglasses for U.S. Air Force pilots will enable them to fire missiles or operate plane controls through their eye movements!

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Professor Catlett says, “Once you combine laser and computer technology, you’re able to read smart books – books that know when you’ve lingered on a word and hence, don’t understand its meaning.” So, then and there, while you’ve got your magic sunglasses on and are reading this book, a synonym pops up on the screen.

Instant Updates

Well-funded fire and police departments will equip each of their officers with such sunglasses to instantaneously give them updated information in the field. A firefighter entering a burning building could be told to turn left to safety, rather than right. A police officer could be told that the bridge is out 50 yards ahead and to take a hard right into the sandbank.

One day, politicians will be fitted with such technology. A new algorithm for identifying thumb prints, ten times faster than what currently exists, is nearly ready. Hence, about 30 seconds after you look at someone across a room his name will spell out in the corner of one of your lenses. No more forgetting old what’s-his-name.

Every sales force worth its salt will be outfitted with such lenses. Imagine, you walk into a new company, you don’t know a soul, and soon enough you’re greeting everyone by his/her first name. Until the technology is widely known, you’ll be regarded as some type of wizard.

Think Your Way Through It

The electronic headband, an emerging product, allows you to think your way to everything you want to do in your home. Sitting in your armchair, you’ll be able to lock the doors. You’ll be able to start your coffee maker. Want the television on or off? You’ve got it. Same with the lights. Refrigerator door. Windows up or down.

If you want to write a letter to your sister in Des Moines, you’ll only need to think the letter. You’ll be able to “program” your personal computer, write, and e-mail the message simply through your thoughts.

Soon, jet pilots flying billion dollar planes will be able to sit in the cockpit, think about what they want to do next, and have the plane be totally responsive. “Ultimately,” says Catlett, “machinery will be totally user-friendly. No instructions, no need to speak, no need to do anything, just think what you want to do.”

The Ubiquitous Computer

The world will enter a stage of the “ubiquitous computer.” Computers will be all around you, anywhere you go, built into the side of walls. They’ll be so powerful and all encompassing that they’ll be virtually invisible.

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Life

Work-life Balance and the Five-Mega-Realities

Work-life balance is the ability to experience a sense of control and to stay productive and competitive at work while maintaining a happy, healthy home life with needed leisure

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In the 1st edition of my book Breathing Space which appeared in 1990, I discussed five major trends – what I called mega-realities – that influenced every aspect of our being, and from which no one was immune. Briefly, these five mega-realities include:

* an expanding volume of knowledge
* mass media growth and electronic addiction
* the paper trail culture
* an over-abundance of choices
* population growth.

Knowledge – In one way or another, everyone fears being under-informed. The enormous volume of new knowledge broadcasted and published in every field exceeds our ability to keep pace. More words are published and broadcast in a day than you could ingest during your lifetime. America leads the world in sheer volume of information generated and disseminated.

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The impasse of this over-information era is that the time necessary to learn the rules for effective living now exceeds your lifetime. This is why management books so often miss the mark: they list dozens — if not hundreds — of rules, when you are already grappling with more rules than you can handle.

Mass Media – The effect of the mass media on our lives continues unchecked. More than four out of five American households own DVD players. In 1972, three major television networks dominated television – ABC, NBC and CBS. Now, there are more than 500 full-power independent television stations. Many cable TV subscribers receive up to 200 channels that offer more than 72,000 shows per month.

With its sensationalized trivia, the mass media glut obscures fundamental issues that do merit concern, such as preserving the environment or feeding the poor.

Paper Trails – Like having too much data and eyewitness reports, having too much paper to deal with makes you feel overwhelmed and overworked. Americans today are consuming three times as much paper as ten years ago. There are two basic reasons why society spews so much paper:

* We have the lowest postal rates in the world.
* We have the widest base of paper-generating technologies.

The typical executive receives more than 200 pieces of unsolicited mail each month – about 12 pieces daily. The average family receives more than 100 catalogs that they did not request, on top of those they did request.

An Overabundance of Choices – Having choices is a blessing of the free market economy, but it’s overwhelming, increases time expenditure, and is a mounting form of exhaustion. More than 1,260 varieties of shampoo are on the market. More than 2,000 skin-care products are for sale. An excess of 75 different types of exercise shoes are available, each with scores of variations in style, function, and features.

Population – From the beginning of creation to 1,850 AD, world population grew to one billion. It grew to two billion by 1930, and is now approaching eight billion. Every three years, nearly 250,000,000 people are added to the planet.

Each day, world population (births minus deaths) increases by more than 265,000 people. Geometric growth in human population permeates and dominates every aspect of our earth, its resources, the environment, and all living things.

The Quest for Work-life Balance

Against this backdrop, the quest for work-life balance is more vital than ever. Predictably, a preponderance of speakers, trainers, authors, journalists, and others whose professions entail regular communication with the masses, proclaim the virtues of achieving and maintaining work-life balance.

However, a glaring question arises. What, exactly, is work-life balance? Compared to the legions of instances in which the term is cited, surprisingly little has been written in articles and books about what the concept actually entails.

During my 33 years in pursuit of understanding why the pace of society has sped up, what the impact has been on the typical individual, and how each of us can forge our own sense and experience of breathing space throughout our lives, I have honed and refined the tenets of what I consider work-life balance.

What Exactly is Work-life Balance ?

For several years now, those who apparently have no idea what work-life balance is and have virtually never experienced it are proclaiming that it is passe — in favor of work-life harmony or work-life integration.

The truth is, these terms all mean approximately the same things. You can split hairs anyway you want, and I suppose that’s a good way to differentiate a program if you’re seeking to offer one to clients, but the reality is work-life balance is the overarching issue of our time that all career professionals strive to achieve.

Work-life balance is the ability to experience a sense of control and to stay productive and competitive at work while maintaining a happy, healthy home life with sufficient leisure. It is attaining focus and awareness, despite seemingly endless tasks and activities competing for your time and attention.

Work-life balance entails having some breathing space for yourself each day; feeling a sense of accomplishment, while not being consumed by work; and having an enjoyable domestic life without short-changing career obligations. It is rooted in whatever fulfillment means to you within 24-hour days, seven-day weeks, and however many years you have left.

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