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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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Life

21 Ways That People with Work-life Balance Are Different from Others (Part 3)

Even in our fast-paced society, slowing down is continually attainable

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Here is the final set of seven ways the people who have attained work-life balance set themselves apart from the rest:

15) The typical person is easily distracted by daily noise and interruptions. Those with work-life balance monitor and manage their personal space to minimize distractions.
* carry ear plugs
* sound proof your workspace
* find alternative work locations and spaces, such as a picnic table or park bench * visit www.yogasleep.com

16) The typical person focuses on finishing the workday in order to drop back and relax. Those with work-life balance are productive at work and have a life for the rest of the day after work.
* leave work at a reasonable hour
* reduce TV watching and web surfing
* employ your den as a mini-gym
* engage in invigorating leisure

17) The typical person engages in inactive leisure, i.e. watching TV, web surfing. Those with work-life balance employ leisure for novel experiences, learning, and physical activity.
* live closer, not farther from work
* rediscover hobbies
* join group activities
* peruse local event notices and attend

18) The typical person intermittently invests in his or her own well-being. Those with work-life balance strategically purchase goods and services that support their well-being.
* buy in multiples when all supplies will eventually be used up
* make strategic purchases…
* if it saves one hour a week
* if it takes up little space, is portable, expandable, flexible, can be traded in

19) The typical person longs for the good old days when the pace of life was slower. Those with work-life balance recognize that even in our fast-paced society, slowing down is continually attainable.
* acknowledge and accept the world as it is
* seek to change aspects of your personal environment over which you have control
* consider the 80-20 rule and ignore low-payoff tasks and activities
* emulate the role models in your industry, organization, or profession

20) The typical person over-collects work-life balance tips hoping that such information will rub off on them. Those who have work-life balance ingest the insights of others, and ultimately follow the beat of their own drum.
* put what you learn into motion
* adopt new behaviors until they become habits
* establish new personal systems
* develop rewarding rituals

21) The typical parent passes their hectic lifestyle on to their children. Those who have it teach their children what is needed to continually experience work-life balance
* remember: children learn most from observation
* exhibit behaviors that you want them to emulate
* include them in activities, ask for their opinion
* act accordingly: actions speak louder than words

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Life

21 Ways That People with Work-life Balance Are Different from Others (Part 2)

Those with work-life balance regard periodic breaks as vital to their high productivity

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Here are the middle seven tip as to how people with Work-life Balance are different from others:

8) The typical person is resigned to a state of “too much to do, not enough time to do it.” Those with work-life balance establish clear priorities, support them, and assemble resources to accomplish their objectives.
* establish life priorities and pursue them daily
* devise goals – quantified, reachable, and written down – that support your priorities
* tap unused staff skills by re-reading resumes and job applications
* retain extra help for domestic and professional tasks via Craigslist, neighborhood flyers

9) The typical person multitasks, thinking that this is essential to get more done in less time. Those with work-life balance focus on the task at hand and accomplish more in less time.
* avoid articles that imply multitasking is okay and even preferable
* secure the quiet space needed to do your best work
* master the art of doing one thing at a time
* concentrate on the current task and take appropriate breaks at timed intervals

10) The typical person thinks achieving work-life balance requires complex tools and sophisticated techniques. Those with work-life balance find that simple approaches work best.
* employ a few, selected apps that are useful for you
* place post-it pads, and reminders in key locations
* benefit in many ways from using clock timers
* hang wall charts

11) The typical person believes that greater responsibilities diminish the chances of achieving work-life balance. Those who have it do not allow such thoughts to impede their progress.
* recognize that greater responsibility merits greater leisure investment
* re-invest some of your new found earnings
* anticipate the challenges, and
* strategize accordingly

12) The typical person worries that taking periodic breaks might be seen as shirking their work. Those with work-life balance regard periodic breaks as vital to their high productivity.
* rise from your seat at least every 20 minutes, which is required for good health * stand, walk, or stretch whenever you feel the need
* refocus your vision with the 20-20-20 technique
* drink water and head-off hydration problems

13) The typical person, when falling behind, wants to catch up all at once. Those with work-life balance seldom fall behind and, if they do, they avoid crash catch-up efforts.
* practice checkbook management
* watch your weight
* sleep, shower, and renew
* get help with yard work or whatever you prefer to not do

14) The typical person feels driven by external forces to race through the day. Those with work-life balance acknowledge that their own habits are the primary force in achieving WLB.

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