Monday, October 14, 2013

Holiday Discussion: Columbus Day

Pretty much everyone has a somewhat negative opinion of Christopher Columbus in spite of a U.S. National Holiday in his name. It is now common knowledge that he didn't discover that the earth was round and that he didn't discover "America" and that he was a brutal leader. Some states even call Columbus Day something else to de-emphasize his relationship to the holiday.

Although I have my own doubts about having a holiday in Columbus's name, it does exist, and I do believe that we can learn lessons from nearly every situation. I set aside some time today to learn about any good traits or actions or lessons available from the remaining historical account of Columbus's life. Here I present the results of my reflection and study.

Lessons from Christopher Columbus

1. After failing to receive funding for his proposed voyage west, three times, from Portugal, France and England, Christopher Columbus just kept trying. He was refused each time because educated advisers to the various monarchs stated that Columbus was underestimating the distance to the West Indies and that he would fail to get there before running out of supplies. It turned out they were right about the distance, but nonetheless, Columbus's relentless pursuit of funding eventually panned out in Spain regardless of the misgivings presented by their royal advisers.

Lesson - Determination can get you what you want.

2. In 1503, Columbus found himself and his crew stranded in Jamaica. Although the natives were at first friendly and helpful, after the sailors proved untrustworthy and thieves, the natives decided to stop helping them. Christopher Columbus had access to an almanac and knew that their would soon be a lunar eclipse. He used this upcoming event to scare the natives into providing further help.

Lesson - Books sometimes contain useful information that can help you out of difficult situations.

3. For most of his life before his landing in 1942, Columbus studied about the lands of the East: the East Indies, India, China, etc. He was not classically educated, but he studied much on his own about those things that interested him. He was well versed in what things he would find in the Far East and was eager to experience everything firsthand. When he actually landed in the Caribbean, his eyes searched for those things he expected. He was often upset that he did not know the right names for things in spite of his study. He doggedly believed until the day he died that he had landed in Asia. At this point, most educated Europeans were quite sure that the place Columbus and others sailed to was actually a new place, not Asia, a closer place. They were of course right. The evidence was right there in Columbus's face, but he chose not to face it and to instead overlay his expectations onto the situation.

Lesson - Keep an open mind. No matter how much you study and think you know, the information may be useless in a novel situation.

I have read a lot more and thought a lot, and really do not have time this day (which is a work day for me) to write things out neatly. I would like to add that Columbus was certainly an excellent sailor and navigator. Also, although he was a cruel leader in the West Indies to Europeans and natives alike, things went further downhill for the natives when his tribute system of leadership was replaced with a system where natives and land were more fairly distributed to settlers.

Probably the biggest other lesson that I had reinforced during my period of study and reflection was to beware of ethnocentrism and to welcome freedom in all its trappings.

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