Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Columbus can teach us about updating our thinking.

On Monday, people in 33 of our 50 United States celebrated Columbus Day. Of course, this immediately begs the question "what happened to the other 17 states?" Do they know something we don't? Or is it purely a bureaucratic oversight?

Not knowing the real answer, I started to look into Christopher Columbus's story. I had grown up singing "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, thinking that Columbus had, in fact, discovered American.

As it turns out, Columbus 'discovered' land that was inhabited by hundreds of thousands of native people that had arrived in what is now the Americas, around 800 BCE via the Bering Strait. Not only that, but Columbus made four trips to the New World,was arrested in his own colony and sent back to Spain in disgrace.

His fourth and final trip brought him within 9 miles of his goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean to get to China and India, but his stubbornness and arrogance caused him to turn around. He didn't believe the native people knew an overland route to the Pacific.

Columbus was greedy and an incredibly bad leader-his own men and the indigenous people couldn't stand him. He died broke and forgotten in 1506.

Wow! Who knew? I had always held Columbus in the highest esteem-a hero even. But faced with additional information, I had to revise my position. Columbus, far from being a hero was a failure and by all accounts a miserable guy to be around. Not only did he not find a trade route to the "Indies", and fail to find the amount of gold he promised Ferdinand and Isabella, he was imprisoned in his own colony and was an all around jerk!

Of course, he was a brilliant sailor and navigator and his contribution to our world is enormous, but at the very least Columbus was a complex dichotomy. Maybe even a bit of an enigma.

With this new information, my bias about Columbus and his endeavors-which up until now were positive-have shifted. I can not just accept the information I was taught as a kid. I must face the fact that there is more to Columbus than meets the eye.

Hmmmm, this sounds familiar doesn't it. We develop biases based on data that may or may not be accurate and we own them. Ok, we are human. The question is what do we do when faced with additional and/or conflicting information. Do we rigidly hold onto your old beliefs or do you modify based on the new information?

I am suggesting that we teach our children to evaluate their biases and beliefs as new information comes their way. When it comes to the biases that can lead to bullying, rigidity is not something we want to promote.

So, if an when my daughter comes home humming a tune about Columbus, I will tell her the entire story-the good and the bad-and let her make her own judgement about Columbus.

With Respect,

PS: Max got out within hours of my triumphant announcement that I had fooled him. Back to the drawing board.

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