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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.

“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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Faith

Reducing Stress Through Prayer, and More

Taking a few minutes out of a hectic day can spell the difference between frenzy and tranquility

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Prayer has been an effective method for soothing the soul since people first believed in God. For some people, the payoff comes with sitting still, and being quiet. Many feel a direct connection with God which, in itself, is calming. Those who attend a place of worship every Sunday find that praying with others is comforting. Reverence to God, fellowship, and familiar chants and hymns can all aid in reducing stress and bringing inner contentment.

If you haven’t prayed in a while, in addition to the religious aspects, the stress reduction can be magnificent. Even if you never attend a formal prayer service, informal prayer, by your bedside, in a comfortable chair, or somewhere in nature can work as well. Some of the most accomplished and admirable people who have ever walked this earth have been deeply religious and have found great comfort in prayer.

Other Options

In our rush-rush society, your ability to take a few minutes out of a hectic day can spell the difference between frenzy and tranquility. The majority of stress we experience is a result of the daily deluge of information and communication we come in contact with on top of the amount of tasks we need to accomplish. If you have been experiencing severe stress, it might mean the difference between a long life and a shortened one.

People have long used drugs (prescribed and otherwise!) and medications to achieve certain effects. I’m not knocking all of these substances – some of them probably live up to their mystique; however, there is no need to engage in drugs, considering there are so many other ways to effectively reduce stress.

Amidst the flurry of reports from medical researchers, many people also rely on a glass or two of wine each day to relax. If this is your habit, and it works for you, you’re probably on reasonably safe ground. The latest research, however, paints a less rosy picture about wine’s beneficial effects. I’m concerned, as well, about the long-term effects of having two glasses of wine, 365 days a year, for 10 or 20 years.

Change for Real

It often seems like people around you are enamored by some techniques such as meditation or yoga, but in reality, most people who practice these or other techniques do so only a handful of times. Then, they revert back to what they did previously.

The changes that you implement need to come without too much pain, to be subtle, even natural and easy. Otherwise, you probably won’t stick with them. Lasting and effective change can come from small incremental change. So, keep in mind that not every technique will strike your fancy. Enough of them will fit your lifestyle, and will work for you enough of the time for you to stay with them and to ultimately exercise control in ways that you have always wanted.

Talking to Someone

The mere act of talking to someone about issues confronting you can be stress reducing, and certainly more effective than mentally stewing over things alone. In The Psychological Society, author Martin L. Gross concluded that “the modern industry of psychology in America was no more effective in treating patients than witch doctors in Africa were in treating people who came to them.”

The key was whether or not the patient believed that the doctor had healing powers. Hence, if you believe that a witch doctor can help you, then a witch doctor can be as effective as a psychiatrist. A trusted friend or relative, with whom you can discuss your problems, can be equally effective.

The idea of talking to someone about what is stressing you is not so much that you will find a solution then and there, but that the mere physical act of discussing the stressor moves you closer to resolution, perhaps using one of the techniques discussed in this article.

Using Humor

Throughout the ages, humor has also been a primary tool in helping to reduce stress. Don’t discount the power of humor before trying it. If it’s been a while, or forever, since you’ve engaged in humor to reduce stress, you’re in for a treat. I’m not talking about jokes or side-splitting belly laughs, but rather a gleeful, playful acceptance of the inane and absurd situations that you encounter, and as a business owner you have your share of them.

The ability to laugh at yourself or to laugh at your situation might spell the fundamental difference between those who show resilience in the face of hard times, and those who face nervous breakdowns.

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Life

For High Productivity, Take a Nap

Naps are better than caffeine for improving verbal memory, motor skills, and perceptual learning

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A study by researchers Sara Mednick, Denise Cai, Jennifer Kanady, and Sean Drummond published in Behavioural Brain Research (2008) found that naps are better than caffeine for improving verbal memory, motor skills, and perceptual learning.

Many people avoid napping during the day to not interfere with a good night’s sleep. “Why should I sleep now,” they might ask, “if it’s only going to make me toss and turn in bed tonight?” Actually, naps can be helpful in recovering from sleep deprivation, refreshing your energy supply, and reducing stress. Naps can do more harm than good, however, when taken at the wrong time or for the wrong amount of time.

The “When” of Napping

So, when to nap? Health.com advises that the preferred time to experience deep sleep is between noon and 2 pm. Naps at other times of the day tend to not be as deep, and therefore will not be as refreshing.

Alternatively, according to Dr. Jack Eddiger at Duke University, the ideal time to take a nap is between 1 pm and 3 pm to 4 pm. These guidelines particularly apply to weekdays. Dr. Eddiger further suggests setting a timer to keep your nap to 20 minutes or less. In that time frame, you can awake refreshed, and more easily resume what you were doing. Longer than 20 minutes and you run the risk of entering into deeper REM sleep. Thereafter, you might need a while to return to where you need to be mentally.

Refreshed or Groggy? – Experts at the National Sleep Foundation concur that when you nap prior to 3 pm, you’re less likely to incur difficulties falling asleep that night. The journal Sleep published a study concurring that shorter naps can be more beneficial. A 10-minute nap both diminishes sleepiness and improves cognitive performance. A 30-minute nap or longer can result in lingering grogginess.

When napping, seek a dark, cool place, in any comfortable position. Once you find the perfect nap time for you, you’ll find that your mood, productivity, attitude, and energy increase. When you start experimenting with your nap hours and your nap lengths, don’t be surprised if you can succeed outside of the recommended guidelines.

Where oh, Where

When you do nap, choose a cot or a bed, versus a chair, in a location where you won’t be disturbed. If at home, hang a sign to tell others in advance. You’ll find that the quality of your nap is higher and the benefits to you will be apparent.

Forbes reports that some high-powered executives and CEOs, whose names are well known, are advocates of taking naps. Many have elaborate napping procedures, knowing that once they awake, they’re ready to jump back into the fray to do great work.

Beware: Naps are not to be used as a substitute for getting the right amount of sleep each night. They are a supplement. It is not ideal to be taking naps to make up for sleep that you missed during the night. In fact, that misses the point altogether.

Weekend Naps

What about napping on the weekend? Generally speaking, it’s okay, and you can loosen up on the time intervals and the length of the nap. Presumably, on the weekend, you have more flexibility. Nevertheless, don’t nap too late in the afternoon or approaching the early evening, if you intend to get to bed at a reasonable hour. You can let the 4 pm guideline slip, but don’t go much past five or six.

An exception is when you have a late night activity planned. For example, when you’re heading out to a social gathering at 9 pm or 10 pm, a nap as late as 7 pm could be to your advantage. You’ll have the alertness and energy to fully participate in the event, even if it extends past midnight.

Napping later in the afternoon or in the early evening is a useful strategy when you’re going to watch a television program that you know will run long. In the U.S., most major events, including the World Series, Academy Awards, Grammys, and NBA finals are scheduled to start at 9 pm on the east coast and 6 pm on the west coast. Hence, Californians have no real issues in finishing the telecast. East coasters, who want to watch the end, can benefit from a nap of a couple hours before a telecast begins.

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