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When Nothing is Definitive and All of History is Up for Grabs

Today, nothing is ever settled and that is a cultural shame

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It’s a sad commentary on our current state of affairs: the Left and the Right agree on next to nothing and, in many respects, have 180 degree opposing views. Nothing seems to be settled, every other issue is under contention, and the rift seems to be worsening each day. No consensus, no agreement, no closure…

I’m not sure when all of this started, but 1963 was certainly a pivotal year. This might have been before you were born, so I’ll take you back to November of that year. President John F. Kennedy was shot. The case was solved 30 years later in 1993 and presented in Case Closed, by Gerald Posner.

Case Closed, Hardly Anyone Knows

In the book Case Closed, Gerald Posner walks the reader through every conceivable detail of the case. He shows conclusively why, acting alone, it was Lee Harvey Oswald who fired the gun. He explains how the “magic bullet” took the angles it was supposed to. Noted historian William Manchester, after reading Posner’s book, said that he couldn’t imagine anyone having any further doubt about the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald, on his own, shot and killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

I read Case Closed cover-to-cover and concur. U.S. News & World Report concluded that Posner’s work was so thorough and so convincing that the magazine would never feature another “who shot JFK?” book review again. What’s more, modern day testing, using the latest technology, and presented on the Learning Channel, the History Channel, and PBS, has consistently supported everything that Posner concluded 21 years earlier. Yet, new mythology and conspiracy theories about who killed John F. Kennedy will be concocted and added to the glut of information you can’t use, information which serves no one.

Currently, the “who shot JFK?” industry currently earns multi-millions of dollars a year, constantly fed by more TV news “investigations,” authors, books, and tours.

Misinformation That Won’t Die

Do not regard the deception surrounding JFK’s death lightly. Society changed as nearly an entire generation suspected that a conspiracy, perhaps a government-led conspiracy, might have brought down the leader of the free world in broad daylight. Who knew what cynicism about the press, government, and truth itself ensued?

Finally, 30 years later, when Posner offered irrefutable evidence about the only single assassin responsible, hardly anyone knew, or worse, actually cared. Even now, a majority of the U.S. population still believed that President Kennedy’s assassination was the result of some type of conspiracy. The case has been long solved, but there is no sense of national closure.

The nature of your life been altered as a result of the cultural incompletion, misinformation, and unreality that has glutted society’s receptors. This situation is more than simply a mystery for the uninformed – it signals the start of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers unwittingly entering the era of incompletions, when nothing is ever settled.

How has that impacted our psyches? Aren’t we supposed to get to the root of such events, especially those that shook a generation, a nation, and the world? What unrecognized psychological scars has the incompletion of the JFK assassination stamped into the cerebrums of an otherwise free-thinking, optimistic generation? When major cases are never closed, everyone suffers, even if in small and undistinguishable ways.

Vital Inquiry to Media-Fueled Lies

Fast forward from 1963, to 15 years later in 1978 and to the death of Elvis Presley in Memphis. Unquestionably, he died as a result of a self-induced pharmaceutical drug overdose, which resulted in heart failure. The coroners’ reports reveal this as do reputable follow-up inquiries and analysis. Still, many people from that era, and many thereafter, think Elvis died as a result of a conspiracy.

Some people believe that Elvis didn’t die, that he’s alive and well (he’d be 86 today) and showing up in random locations captured by the ever-present photographers of the Enquirer, Globe, or Star.

Regardless of what you think about Elvis, his death, even amidst the jokes, and everything that’s been made about it since then, the pervasive message is that no case is ever really solved. Everything lingers on and on and on.

The turmoil in the 2000 presidential election, centered on Florida, with its endless motions filed, court appeals, and legal procedures, has spawned debates, arguments, and accusations that exist to this day and no doubt will linger on for years. No conclusions, no consensus, no closure. Just additional coverage. The 2016 election has Democrats still complaining. The 2020 election might never be “settled.” The media wins, the pundits win, one candidate or another wins, but everyone else loses.

History as Turf Wars

The turf wars fought in our age of incompletions, especially in the political arena, now retroactively extend to anything that has ever happened, whether you’re assessing U.S. history, the formation of our nation, world history, the origins of Islam, or the origins of Christianity.

At one time, it was widely held that dropping the atomic bomb on Japan hastened the end of WWII, saved a bare minimum of 60,000 U.S. troops who would have been needed to fight a ground war in Japan, and provided the world with the closure it so sorely needed after six years of global destruction.

Since then, the arguments about the U.S. being the over-aggressor, the only nation to ever drop an atomic bomb on another, and the inhumanity of it all, have risen to the forefront of many people’s consciousness. Some people drum up scraps of ‘evidence’ that the United States had no need to have dropped the bomb, as if the casualty rate of invading mainland Japan would have been minimal.

Some people say that Japan was near gone (yet even after one atom bomb was dropped, it still did not surrender!), U.S. intentions were racially motivated (although the bomb was originally designed to use on the now-surrendered Germans), the hawks had their way, and so forth.

What had been regarded by many people as closure to the most terrible event that the earth had ever encountered in which 44,500,000 perished, is now the subject of endless debate in some circles. Not that debate isn’t healthy, quite the contrary, especially for an action of such magnitude.

Every Inch Contested

When every inch of political terrain is contested everywhere around the clock, and when all public discourse is subject to interpretation, reinterpretation and revision, and essentially nothing is final, it begins to wear on humanity and notably trickles down to the level of the individual. You, an otherwise confident professional, have reached adulthood in an era and in a culture where incompletion more often than not, is the norm. Nothing is ever settled and that is a cultural shame.

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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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Education

Academic Underachievement As a Permanent Condition

Academic achievement occurs through individual effort: One boy and one girl after another rising above

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On the state and local level, as decisions are made about how and in what form we will educate the nation’s children, an age-old issue remains. The underlying causes of income inequality and civil unrest likely has less to do with media-inflamed coverage and more to do with a lingering issue that few people want to earnestly discuss: educational disparity.

In virtually every U.S. school system, the disparity year after year, decade after decade, and even longer, in mathematics competency, reading proficiency, test scores, honor roll status, and graduation rates, between African American students and other students is disturbing.

A Disturbing Reality

Here in the third decade of the third millennium, with a male African American high school dropout rate at 40% across the U.S., can anyone view the situation optimistically? Any responsible American would understandably be concerned.

As Eric Hanushek, who is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, as well as a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, exclaimed “It’s remarkable.” Following his extensive analysis of the situation, he remarked, “I knew that the gap hadn’t been closing too much, but when I actually looked at the data I was myself surprised.”

In one community after another, and one school system after another, when strenuous efforts to bridge the gap do not bear fruit, invariably someone yells “foul,” as if some grand conspiracy is occurring and a magic wand, yet to be waved, could suddenly redress all. And, as if hard-working, dedicated teachers are not attempting their utmost for each of their students.

An Undesired Path

Consider the school system in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, North Carolina. This locale, deemed, “The southern part of heaven,” by a variety of writers, is among the most progressive in the United States. The teachers and educators here have a vested interest in demonstrating that their school system, beyond all others, can succeed in the vital area of closing achievement gaps between whites and minorities.

Nevertheless, year in and year out the gap remains. So, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education becomes primed to try anything! Another in an endless line of supposed “fixes” was to eliminate the advanced math classes in the middle schools and to lump all non-pre-algebra students together, with similar plans to eliminate other advanced classes such as in language arts.

Just as you cannot easily erect a sound building on quicksand, and you cannot expect to solve a decades-old problem by starting with a shaky foundation. Taking a lowest common denominator approach to developing school curriculum has never consistently worked, anywhere. It frustrates the students and dramatically increases a teacher’s burden – all such students must then be taught at individual learning speeds. Do you know any superhuman teachers? If so, could you afford them?

Face the Real Issues

Permanently closing the academic gap between underachieving students and the rest of the student population requires addressing reality – airing the truth about the disparity – not resorting to politically “correct” psychobabble and curricula finagling for another ten years, and then another ten, and then another.

This disparity encompasses such issues as the number of hours the television is on in given households, family or parental encouragement for completing homework assignments, a regular workspace, and established hours for studying in a quiet environment, among other factors.

Until solid analysis, exploration, and programs that address these issues are undertaken, no amount of wrangling with classes will prove to be the “winning formula.” And, school boards will have no chance of effectively addressing the continuing problem of poor academic performance among student groups.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Sign of Four, detective Sherlock Holmes says, “…When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The schools in U.S. communities routinely exhaust talented teachers with a task that cannot be solved by them, nor is it theirs to solve.

Students Eager to Learn

However improbable to those who wish to pretend otherwise, academic achievement occurs through individual effort: One boy and one girl after another rising above and cracking the books, then coming to class as serious students, eager to learn, and primed to excel. Such achievement is not likely to occur any other way.

Otherwise, expect that income inequality and civil unrest will continue for decades into the 21st century.

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Business

Common ‘Wisdom’ that Just Ain’t So

Much of what we read, think, and repeat is not accurate, at all…

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Much of what we read, think, and repeat is not exactly so. For example have you encountered the phrase, “Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither”? Often incorrectly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the phrase is nonsensical. With no national security, soon enough you’ll have no liberty.

With complete security, you’ll have no liberty as well. A trade-off is always needed. For the record, Benjamin Franklin actually said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to pursue a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That makes more sense.

‘A penny saved is a penny earned’? Once again, Ben Franklin is in the mix. A penny saved is not a penny earned. A penny earned is a penny earned and even then it might not be a full penny depending on taxes, inflation, and other hidden costs and expenses. If you save your money in a long-term CD, you can’t have access to it months. If funds are tied up when you need them that is not a pretty penny.

Not Actually

Consider the phrase, “Experience is the best teacher.” Perhaps, this is so, but not as a given. Generally, an excellent teacher is the best teacher. Experience might teach us the wrong lessons or send us down another blind alley. If we don’t fully comprehend the meaning of our experiences,we’re as likely to make bad decisions in the future and have unfortunate experiences as a result.

Closely related is, ‘practice makes perfect.’ Practice does not make perfect. If your practices are off the mark, then you will continue to be imperfect and you might be reinforcing a bad habit. As they say in Tae Kwon Do, “Practice makes permanent.”

On my daughter’s softball team, a young girl named Whitney was regarded as the star pitcher. Yet during the pregame warm-ups, time after time, she could barely throw a strike. With luck, she averaged 20% strikes out of all her pitches thrown. Sure enough, when the game started, she was no better. Why would anybody expect the outcome to be different?

The best chance for you to excel is to have perfect practices. An array of imperfect practices leads failure.

Lemons and Life

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ This sounds like good advice, but to actually make and sell lemonade, you’d also need to have clean water, a good lemon press, some type of sweetener, a paring knife, a pitcher, an implement for stirring, and cups. Such bromides leave out 90% of what else you’d need.

Periodically, I encounter authors and speakers who write or say ‘to live life more fully’ by pretending that “you have six months to live.” If you had six months to live you’d engage in behaviors different than now.

You might sell your house. You might go on world travel, or at least travel more than you’ve been doing. You might dissipate your assets. You might spend your money down to nothing, or give it all away. Then, when you undoubtedly live beyond six months, you’re likely to be penniless!

Thank You For Sharing (!)

‘Think outside the box.’ What does the “box” even mean? The phrase has been so overused that it is now rendered meaningless. Would it be better simply to say “expand your thinking,” or “brainstorm,” or “reach beyond the norm”?

‘There is no ‘I’ in team.’ Michael Jordan once remarked that while there is no “I” in team, there certainly is a “me.” Acronyms and creative word use might have their place in a corporate pep rally, otherwise let them be.

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