Saturday, 31 March 2012

The practical way to achievement: What works and what doesn't


At the beginning of the 16th century, life expectancy in Europe was much shorter that nowadays. Typhus and tuberculosis were fairly common. Influenza and common colds were lethal for undernourished peasants plagued by vermin and lice. Large numbers of deaths took place every winter.

Medicine at that time was evolving from mysticism into science. Renaissance physicians took over the knowledge from ancient Greece and Rome, developed their own ideas, and began to experiment with new treatments. The sale of curative herbs and potions was a booming business, although few of those remedies actually proved beneficial to patients.

When wealthy merchants became sick, they had the means to pay for the services of the best physicians, from which there were only a few in each city. Since Universities produced small numbers of graduates, tending to the sick was a lucrative and prestigious occupation.

The discovery of new medical knowledge generated opportunity and risk. On the one hand, innovative cures benefited patients and created the basis for further research. On the other hand, new remedies disrupted the established business of physicians and pharmacists.

Medical practitioners had little incentive to abandon useless treatments for which they could charge hefty fees. The discovery of inexpensive natural remedies undermined their incomes and reputations.

Historical distance allows us to contemplate the 16th century with a feeling of superiority. When we read about the beliefs that people upheld five hundred years ago, we react with amusement. Why did knowledge evolve so slowly? Why did ignorance and prejudice persist for so long?

The best minds of the 16th century asked the same questions. Paracelsus (1493-1541) offers a striking example in the field of medicine. His real name was Theophrastus von Hohenheim, which he changed himself to Paracelsus. The philosophical lesson to be learned from his life goes far beyond the scope of medical techniques.

We know little of Paracelsus' infancy. Like many middle-class youths of his time, he must have picked up the rudiments of Latin through private lessons. A knowledge of Latin was the only formal requirement to study at European Universities. The choice of subjects was mostly limited to theology, medicine, and law.

While Paracelsus completed his medical studies in Ferrara (Italy), the pest broke out and began to decimate the population. Those who could afford it left Ferrara for the countryside in order to avoid contagion. The poor remained in town and the epidemic wiped out complete families.

The municipality hired men to remove the sick from their houses and transport them to a closed camp outside the city wall, where they would be abandoned to die. Paracelsus, who was still a medical student, soon understood that medieval treatments, such as bleeding patients, were ineffective against the pest.

This realization led him to experiment with alternative methods. When the pest receded and normal life returned to Ferrara, Paracelsus presented his new ideas at the University. To his surprise, his views were met with scepticism and hostility. The professors in Ferrara did not welcome suggestions that contradicted inherited knowledge.

After graduation, Paracelsus travelled extensively throughout Europe. Sometimes, he would settle down in a city to practice medicine for a year; on other occasions, he would take up a position as surgeon in one of the armies involved in the wars that ravaged the Renaissance.

As his medical knowledge and expertise grew, so did his irritation with the incompetence of fellow physicians. Thanks to his wide travelling, Paracelsus had accumulated impressive surgical skills and long experience in the use of herbs and minerals for curative purposes. In contrast, the average medic in the 16th century possessed only the little knowledge that he had acquired at the University.

Paracelsus' effectiveness increased his fame, but his criticism of ignorant doctors made him many enemies. His conflicts with colleagues became extreme after he was appointed to teach medicine at the University of Basel (Switzerland).

With the perspective of five centuries, we can clearly see how unrealistic Paracelsus' expectations were. It was undeniable that he had acquired more knowledge than other physicians; nevertheless, it was chimerical for him to expect his colleagues to make way for truth when innovation undermined their livelihoods and reputations.

Is it not unfair that Paracelsus had to face such a strong resistance? Was his indignation at his ignorant colleagues not well justified? My point is that these questions are irrelevant because they are based on incorrect assumptions.

Unrealistic expectations are hard to discard because they are based on delusions of entitlement. Paracelsus felt wrongly entitled to reshape the world according to truth and innovation, even though the great majority of his contemporaries had vested interests in clinging to the past.

As a result, Paracelsus was forced to quit his position at the University of Basel a year later and return to his itinerant life. Although he was one of the best physicians of his time, he died in poverty before his 48th birthday.

The fact is that knowledge, expertise, or desire do not grant magical powers to anyone. Unrealistic expectations lead to waste and decay. A workable plan is worth a million debates. Let go of chimerical projects and focus on what can be reasonably accomplished. Stay away from grandiose undertakings and concentrate on entrepreneurship, which is the practical way to achievement.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by antkriz under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The practical way to achievement: What works and what doesn't


At the beginning of the 16th century, life expectancy in Europe was much shorter that nowadays. Typhus and tuberculosis were fairly common. Influenza and common colds were lethal for undernourished peasants plagued by vermin and lice. Large numbers of deaths took place every winter.

Medicine at that time was evolving from mysticism into science. Renaissance physicians took over the knowledge from ancient Greece and Rome, developed their own ideas, and began to experiment with new treatments. The sale of curative herbs and potions was a booming business, although few of those remedies actually proved beneficial to patients.

When wealthy merchants became sick, they had the means to pay for the services of the best physicians, from which there were only a few in each city. Since Universities produced small numbers of graduates, tending to the sick was a lucrative and prestigious occupation.

The discovery of new medical knowledge generated opportunity and risk. On the one hand, innovative cures benefited patients and created the basis for further research. On the other hand, new remedies disrupted the established business of physicians and pharmacists.

Medical practitioners had little incentive to abandon useless treatments for which they could charge hefty fees. The discovery of inexpensive natural remedies undermined their incomes and reputations.

Historical distance allows us to contemplate the 16th century with a feeling of superiority. When we read about the beliefs that people upheld five hundred years ago, we react with amusement. Why did knowledge evolve so slowly? Why did ignorance and prejudice persist for so long?

The best minds of the 16th century asked the same questions. Paracelsus (1493-1541) offers a striking example in the field of medicine. His real name was Theophrastus von Hohenheim, which he changed himself to Paracelsus. The philosophical lesson to be learned from his life goes far beyond the scope of medical techniques.

We know little of Paracelsus' infancy. Like many middle-class youths of his time, he must have picked up the rudiments of Latin through private lessons. A knowledge of Latin was the only formal requirement to study at European Universities. The choice of subjects was mostly limited to theology, medicine, and law.

While Paracelsus completed his medical studies in Ferrara (Italy), the pest broke out and began to decimate the population. Those who could afford it left Ferrara for the countryside in order to avoid contagion. The poor remained in town and the epidemic wiped out complete families.

The municipality hired men to remove the sick from their houses and transport them to a closed camp outside the city wall, where they would be abandoned to die. Paracelsus, who was still a medical student, soon understood that medieval treatments, such as bleeding patients, were ineffective against the pest.

This realization led him to experiment with alternative methods. When the pest receded and normal life returned to Ferrara, Paracelsus presented his new ideas at the University. To his surprise, his views were met with scepticism and hostility. The professors in Ferrara did not welcome suggestions that contradicted inherited knowledge.

After graduation, Paracelsus travelled extensively throughout Europe. Sometimes, he would settle down in a city to practice medicine for a year; on other occasions, he would take up a position as surgeon in one of the armies involved in the wars that ravaged the Renaissance.

As his medical knowledge and expertise grew, so did his irritation with the incompetence of fellow physicians. Thanks to his wide travelling, Paracelsus had accumulated impressive surgical skills and long experience in the use of herbs and minerals for curative purposes. In contrast, the average medic in the 16th century possessed only the little knowledge that he had acquired at the University.

Paracelsus' effectiveness increased his fame, but his criticism of ignorant doctors made him many enemies. His conflicts with colleagues became extreme after he was appointed to teach medicine at the University of Basel (Switzerland).

With the perspective of five centuries, we can clearly see how unrealistic Paracelsus' expectations were. It was undeniable that he had acquired more knowledge than other physicians; nevertheless, it was chimerical for him to expect his colleagues to make way for truth when innovation undermined their livelihoods and reputations.

Is it not unfair that Paracelsus had to face such a strong resistance? Was his indignation at his ignorant colleagues not well justified? My point is that these questions are irrelevant because they are based on incorrect assumptions.

Unrealistic expectations are hard to discard because they are based on delusions of entitlement. Paracelsus felt wrongly entitled to reshape the world according to truth and innovation, even though the great majority of his contemporaries had vested interests in clinging to the past.

As a result, Paracelsus was forced to quit his position at the University of Basel a year later and return to his itinerant life. Although he was one of the best physicians of his time, he died in poverty before his 48th birthday.

The fact is that knowledge, expertise, or desire do not grant magical powers to anyone. Unrealistic expectations lead to waste and decay. A workable plan is worth a million debates. Let go of chimerical projects and focus on what can be reasonably accomplished. Stay away from grandiose undertakings and concentrate on entrepreneurship, which is the practical way to achievement.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by antkriz under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Rational living - Action solves problems


Packaged foods are conditioned to suit the taste of the consumer, which varies from country to country. Bread is baked differently in cities that are just a hundred kilometres away. Our culture feeds on sugar contained in cakes, cookies, ice cream, and alcoholic drinks.

Opponents of the Western diet will warn you that sugar is going to kill you. Actually, not only sugar, but also alcohol, red meat, white flour, and other elements of the modern fare. Contemporary medical studies have proven those admonishments true to a good extent, but they also acknowledge that death will very rarely be the penalty for eating a beef hamburger.

The rational conclusion is that some foods create certain health risks; you should be aware of them and select your meals accordingly. Nowadays, few people contend the principle that bad food is detrimental to your vitality.

If you don't make a minimum effort to gather correct dietary information, you will make random choices. If you eat appallingly, you will suffer the consequences. In terms of food, science has established that sweetness is not always conductive to wellness.

Can we remove counter-productive actions also from other areas of our life? How much of what we believe about the world holds true upon detailed examination? Are our convictions solidly based on facts? What about our ethical values and fundamental goals? Do we resort to prejudice in order to hide irrational fears? Do we appeal to tradition in order to safeguard inefficiency?

It takes a strong will and massive efforts to modify the way we eat. On many occasions, men and women undertake such changes only as a last resort, for instance, after having suffered a heart attack or being diagnosed with cancer.

Embracing a better diet becomes a major challenge when individuals endure constant social pressure to behave irresponsibly. Business meetings in Russia are still being closed with rounds of vodka. When colleagues and customers push you to drink, it is very difficult to resist, even if you are conscious of the negative consequences of your actions.

Inferior food and excessive alcohol undermine our health. Falsehoods sabotage our interests and place heavy burdens on our shoulders. Misrepresentations can be pleasant and enticing despite their lethal consequences.

The bigger the falsehood, the less that will remain of your independence. If you subscribe to misrepresentations, they will erode your entrepreneurial abilities. You will forsake your initiative and become psychologically dependent. How can you replace common myths by effective truths?

[1] Misplaced hope should make way for initiative: Do you ever tell yourself that someone, somewhere is going to recognize your talent? Good things do not necessarily happen to those who wait long enough. The effective truth is that, if your talents are underutilized, you'd better take action to promote them. It is up to you to improve your situation.

[2] Irritation should make way for constructive action: Imagine that, after suffering some minor abuse or discrimination, you become enraged, lusting for revenge. Is someone going to come to fix the world and put an end to unfairness?

The truth is that everybody makes mistakes. It is seldom worth it to devote your time to correcting other people's minor faults. Put the unpleasant story out of your mind and move on. Apply your efforts to pursuing your goals, not to telling people off.

[3] Passive acceptance should be replaced by workable plans: Put yourself in the shoes of someone who gets divorced in his mid-forties. For this man, it feels good to hang around his old friends and be comforted for the difficulties that he is encountering, but is this an effective behaviour?

Maybe they will introduce him to someone nice who will put his life back on track. Otherwise, he will just have to get used to loneliness, won't he? The truth is that he needs to make a workable plan to rebuild his life. Should he join a health club? Should he use on-line dating to meet a new romantic partner?

[4] Postponement should make way for entrepreneurship: Imagine that you practise a beloved hobby that you would like to turn into a source of income. Unfortunately, everybody is telling you that you should not take risks at your age. You hear that your best chance of success is to stay put in your job until retirement age.

The effective truth is that it takes a long time to establish any sort of business. The sooner you start your entrepreneurial career, the better off you will be in the long term. Postponement does not reduce risk. A sensible approach would be to start up your business on the side, devoting your evenings and weekends to it.

In every single case, hesitation delays progress. Do not allow wrong ideas to park your projects for years. Do not be contented with bromides that waste your life. Throw away misrepresentations and adopt an entrepreneurial attitude based on facts. Waiting only keeps you down. Action solves problems.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Alan Vernon. under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Rational living - Action solves problems


Packaged foods are conditioned to suit the taste of the consumer, which varies from country to country. Bread is baked differently in cities that are just a hundred kilometres away. Our culture feeds on sugar contained in cakes, cookies, ice cream, and alcoholic drinks.

Opponents of the Western diet will warn you that sugar is going to kill you. Actually, not only sugar, but also alcohol, red meat, white flour, and other elements of the modern fare. Contemporary medical studies have proven those admonishments true to a good extent, but they also acknowledge that death will very rarely be the penalty for eating a beef hamburger.

The rational conclusion is that some foods create certain health risks; you should be aware of them and select your meals accordingly. Nowadays, few people contend the principle that bad food is detrimental to your vitality.

If you don't make a minimum effort to gather correct dietary information, you will make random choices. If you eat appallingly, you will suffer the consequences. In terms of food, science has established that sweetness is not always conductive to wellness.

Can we remove counter-productive actions also from other areas of our life? How much of what we believe about the world holds true upon detailed examination? Are our convictions solidly based on facts? What about our ethical values and fundamental goals? Do we resort to prejudice in order to hide irrational fears? Do we appeal to tradition in order to safeguard inefficiency?

It takes a strong will and massive efforts to modify the way we eat. On many occasions, men and women undertake such changes only as a last resort, for instance, after having suffered a heart attack or being diagnosed with cancer.

Embracing a better diet becomes a major challenge when individuals endure constant social pressure to behave irresponsibly. Business meetings in Russia are still being closed with rounds of vodka. When colleagues and customers push you to drink, it is very difficult to resist, even if you are conscious of the negative consequences of your actions.

Inferior food and excessive alcohol undermine our health. Falsehoods sabotage our interests and place heavy burdens on our shoulders. Misrepresentations can be pleasant and enticing despite their lethal consequences.

The bigger the falsehood, the less that will remain of your independence. If you subscribe to misrepresentations, they will erode your entrepreneurial abilities. You will forsake your initiative and become psychologically dependent. How can you replace common myths by effective truths?

[1] Misplaced hope should make way for initiative: Do you ever tell yourself that someone, somewhere is going to recognize your talent? Good things do not necessarily happen to those who wait long enough. The effective truth is that, if your talents are underutilized, you'd better take action to promote them. It is up to you to improve your situation.

[2] Irritation should make way for constructive action: Imagine that, after suffering some minor abuse or discrimination, you become enraged, lusting for revenge. Is someone going to come to fix the world and put an end to unfairness?

The truth is that everybody makes mistakes. It is seldom worth it to devote your time to correcting other people's minor faults. Put the unpleasant story out of your mind and move on. Apply your efforts to pursuing your goals, not to telling people off.

[3] Passive acceptance should be replaced by workable plans: Put yourself in the shoes of someone who gets divorced in his mid-forties. For this man, it feels good to hang around his old friends and be comforted for the difficulties that he is encountering, but is this an effective behaviour?

Maybe they will introduce him to someone nice who will put his life back on track. Otherwise, he will just have to get used to loneliness, won't he? The truth is that he needs to make a workable plan to rebuild his life. Should he join a health club? Should he use on-line dating to meet a new romantic partner?

[4] Postponement should make way for entrepreneurship: Imagine that you practise a beloved hobby that you would like to turn into a source of income. Unfortunately, everybody is telling you that you should not take risks at your age. You hear that your best chance of success is to stay put in your job until retirement age.

The effective truth is that it takes a long time to establish any sort of business. The sooner you start your entrepreneurial career, the better off you will be in the long term. Postponement does not reduce risk. A sensible approach would be to start up your business on the side, devoting your evenings and weekends to it.

In every single case, hesitation delays progress. Do not allow wrong ideas to park your projects for years. Do not be contented with bromides that waste your life. Throw away misrepresentations and adopt an entrepreneurial attitude based on facts. Waiting only keeps you down. Action solves problems.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Alan Vernon. under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]