I’ll Go To Hell

July 6, 2010

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is considered one of America’s greatest writers. He had a brilliant mind and an unprecedented ability to express himself through words that still resonate today. In his book, Huckleberry Finn, young Huck (the narrator) recounts his adventures on the Mississippi River in the company of Jim—a slave who’s seeking freedom so he can work and buy his family’s freedom.

During the journey, Huck is bothered by the fact he’s helping Jim escape. He realizes by doing so he’s actually “stealing” someone’s property. At one point, his conscience gets the best of him and here’s what follows:

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter – and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. Read more

Question Conventional Wisdom

June 22, 2010

One of the biggest innovation blockers comes in the form of conventional wisdom. That’s why I always try to question generally accepted ideas or explanations. While not all commonly held beliefs are wrong… all should be questioned. Just because an authority makes a statement or the general public accepts a belief, it doesn’t make it true. It just makes it accepted… at least for the moment. In 1773 King George II said the American colonies had little stomach for revolution. Oftentimes conventional wisdom is simply wrong. The evidence to support this claim seems endless; consider these examples:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” ~Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899

“X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” ~Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” ~Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” ~Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of IBM, 1943

“With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.” ~Business Week, 1958

“The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.” ~Literary Digest, 1899

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” ~Albert Einstein, 1932

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” ~Western Union internal memo, 1876

“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” ~Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” ~Dr. Dionysys Larder, professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, 1793-1859

Today these statements seem preposterous. How could experts be so wrong? Did the general public really accept this thinking? Yes. Just like many people do today.

While conventional wisdom is sometimes hard to spot, its defenders often expose it by trying to discredit and suppress people who threaten it… like those with contrary views, new information or alternative answers. When defenders have little evidence or logic to justify their positions, they often attack truth seekers as they represent the greatest threat. In addition, defenders sometimes resort to manipulation, clichés and propaganda to build support for their beliefs. For example, some politicians and their followers chant “Drill Baby Drill” to reinforce the conventional wisdom regarding our national security, independence and need for more oil. While simple repetition proves nothing, it does rally the troops and reinforces conventional wisdom. The ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has many Americans reconsidering this chant and the conventional wisdom it proclaims regarding the need for more oil.

Whether it’s energy, healthcare, business or an interpersonal struggle you’re going through… it’s important to remain cognizant and not simply default to the quick, simple and convenient answers conventional wisdom offers. While eliminating independent critical thinking may be tempting… it’s rarely a good solution. At some point, conventional wisdom is always confronted by reality. If it aligns well enough, it stays; if it doesn’t, it’s replaced by new thinking. This cycle has been in place since the beginning of recorded history. It is maintained by those who blindly follow conventional wisdom, by those who defend it, by those who question it… and by those who change it and create new realities. Where do you fall within this cycle?

Cut, Baby, Cut

May 19, 2010

I first became interested in Easter Island (Rapa Nui) years ago after reading “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Däniken. His basic hypothesis is that space travelers visited earth and were welcomed as gods by our ancient ancestors. To Däniken’s way of thinking, this explains many of the unexplainable ancient technologies, past marvels and religious stories. Easter Island was one example sighted in his book, specifically the large monolithic statues called “moai”. According to Däniken, creating and transporting such massive statues would have been outside the intellectual or physical scope of primitive islanders. While most scientists and historians reject Däniken’s ideas, his book captured my imagination and made me aware of Easter Island.

Easter Island is the most isolated habitable piece of land in the world. It lies in the Pacific Ocean more than 2,000 miles west of South America. According to scientists, when its inhabitants first arrived around 400 AD, they must have thought they landed in paradise. The mild climate, fertile soil, rich vegetation and forests would have provided all the resources needed to build homes, canoes (for fishing), fuel for fire, making rope, weapons, thatching, and so on. Over time these islanders developed a complex social structure, centralized government and religious practices… and at some point, they began creating statues.

But by the time Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen discovered the island in 1722 on Easter day (hence its name), it was far from a paradise. There wasn’t a tree or bush standing higher than ten feet tall. The native animals had vanished and the islanders were raising chickens to survive. According to Roggeveen and others who followed him, these famished natives certainly weren’t capable of producing and moving such massive statues. So what happened on Easter Island? There are many theories. Not only about why and how these statues were made… but what happened to the islanders who made them… and what happened to their paradise? Read more

Being a Good Samaritan

April 28, 2010

What ever happened to being a Good Samaritan? Last week in New York, Hugo Tale-Yax, a homeless Guatemalan immigrant, was stabbed repeatedly in the chest while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker. Then he fell to the sidewalk, bleeding to death as dozens of people walked past. While some turned their heads to catch a glimpse, others actually stopped to gawk and talk. One guy stopped, rolled Tale-Yax onto his side, saw the puddle of blood, and then kept walking. Another person actually took a photo before moving on!

“HOW CAN PEOPLE WALK BY A DYING PERSON AND NOT HELP?” outraged citizens ask in utter disbelief. “WHAT’S THE WORLD COMING TO?” dismayed talking TV heads ask… acting as if this were something new.

According to social psychologists, Mr. Tale-Yax was the victim of a psychological phenomenon called “the bystander effect.” I first learned about this in a college sociology class. Back then it was called the “Genovese syndrome” named after the infamous 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens. Dozens of people witnessed her attack and heard her screams but did nothing to stop it… let alone report it.

It seems the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help a person in need. Research shows that individual bystanders monitor fellow bystanders to try and determine if it’s necessary to intervene. When no one takes action, they all conclude their help isn’t needed. Some individuals assume that another bystander will intervene… and as a result, no one intervenes. Many individuals assume that another bystander is more qualified, so they don’t bother getting involved. Certain bystanders are concerned about “losing face” in the eyes of the others… while some fear legal consequences should they offer their assistance. Read more

Happy bEARTHday!

April 20, 2010

Years ago I met a guy named Noel. Noel was his first name—and he hated it. “Since I was born on Christmas, my parents thought it was an appropriate name,” Noel told me. What he hated more than his name was his birth date. “We can never celebrate ‘my day,’ it’s always overshadowed by Christmas,” he explained. Noel wasn’t a very happy person. It was rare to see him smile. I don’t know if it was his name, his birth date or something else… but his attitude did seem to worsen during December.

My birthday falls on April 22—Earth Day. Because I was in 6th grade when the first Earth Day was celebrated, my parents weren’t tempted to name me Eartha, Fern, Gaia, Ocean, Zoe… or some other Earth-related name. But if they had, I don’t think I would have minded. What’s in a name—right? Unlike Noel, I’m glad my birthday falls on an important date—especially this one. I love the concept of Earth Day and feel honored to share “my day” celebrating it. I consider it my bEARTHday, so to speak.

We have no control over where and when we are born, or what we’re named, for that matter. While we don’t control the circumstances we are born into, we do choose our responses, attitudes and actions. In other words, our choices create our lives. Our choices also affect the Earth. Hopefully as we’re creating our lives, we are also creating a better world. Think about it—without Earth, we have no place to live. We couldn’t exist. Recognizing this fact, can you think of anything more important than caring for our planet? I can’t. That’s why I’m committed to being a responsible Earth citizen.

For me, this commitment is easy. Not only is it logical, it’s natural, too. It resonates with my soul. I realized long ago when something resonates with your soul, it’s important to embrace it. That’s why I speak out against corporations that pollute our planet, deplete our resources and mistreat people, animals… and nature. Yes, I believe in capitalism… but not at the expense of our earth and its inhabitants. That’s why I support “green” businesses.

Doing what’s right and challenging the status quo takes courage… but when we don’t make good choices and don’t challenge those who pollute and mistreat our planet, we become part of the problem.

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE… but mostly… RESPECT our planet. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” I agree with Einstein… and the time is NOW. We need to start thinking differently and creating new sustainable Earth-friendly solutions. The status quo has lost its status. Let’s make certain future generations can experience this miraculous living planet filled with its endless beauty and wonder. Together, WE can make this world a better place. Happy Earth Day!

My “Radical” Healthcare Solution

January 30, 2010

Okay, but face it, Michael… you’re a radical, Jim said to me the other night at dinner. The first time I recall being called a radical was back in grade school. It was also the first time I had ever heard the word, and I didn’t know what it meant. Based on my teacher’s tone, and the fact that my thinking didn’t align with others, I assumed it meant something bad. Over time I learned its meaning and looking back on that first experience, my teacher’s use of the word was pretty accurate. It seems I was, and according to Jim, still am a radical.

His accusation came during a discussion concerning healthcare. Jim’s position was pretty simple: Government should stay the hell out of healthcare… period. After a few more statements along the same vein, I realized Jim, like many U.S. citizens, had taken the bait. By bait, I mean the propaganda that has become the faulty cornerstone of the so-called “healthcare” debate. What made me a radical in his eyes is that I didn’t accept it. I was interested in discussing “health” care… not “sick” care. Jim wanted to argue about government involvement, insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies and so on… politics.

When you stop listening to rhetoric and start looking at reality (facts and evidence), most “problems” start looking different. Healthcare is no exception. It has little to do with the issues being discussed in Washington or in the media. Read more

Beware the Semmelweis Reflex!

November 6, 2009

Metaphorically and literally speaking, the healthcare debate today is totally ill-focused. When it comes to implementing real solutions, it seems most people suddenly decide they’d rather argue, live in denial, and defend the status quo than accept reality and take action. It’s true. They’d rather fight than switch (can you older readers visualize the black eye?). Given the choice of accepting empirical evidence or clinging to misguided beliefs, many… if not most… people will choose misguided beliefs.

The act of automatically rejecting facts without thought or real consideration is sometimes referred to as the Semmelweis reflex… or “Semmelweis effect.” The name comes from Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician who, in 1847, discovered that when maternity doctors washed their hands with a chlorinated-lime solution, the incidence of a type of sepsis related to childbirth was significantly reduced. So here’s where the “reflex”/“effect” part comes in: Despite his efforts and the obvious evidence showing that hand-washing reduced mortality below 1%, Semmelweis’ practice wasn’t accepted until years after his death. Furthermore, in 1865, Semmelweis had a mental breakdown and ended up in an asylum, where he died at age 47.

How could this happen? It’s simple. During his lifetime, Semmelweis’ observations and evidence conflicted with the established beliefs of the day. Medical books and doctors back then were focused on bloodletting as a primary treatment for disease… and in contrast to the evidence, they “believed” bloodletting was the best treatment. Read more

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