Real Leaders

How To Fuel Civilization: Learn From The Primitives

European explorers first met North American Indians in the sixteenth century, two distinctly opposite visions of the world fatally crashed into each other: while Europeans imported their strict moral code centered on will power, effort and hard work, native Indians had never been exposed to anything like it. To these hunter-gatherer tribes, will power and effort were a useless waste of energy.

Nature would provide everything they needed as She’d always done, and sweating it out in anxious gold-digging was definitely not the way to get into Her good graces. As we all know, that way of life disappeared under strong-willed engines of progress and civilization in the Americas, and most everywhere else in the world. But these primitive and unsophisticated visions of life may just be the remedy to many of our environmental problems hundreds of years later.

The head of cultural transformation for a large Dutch multinational company told me recently that “we seem to be investing so much money in moving people towards the right mindset in order to advance sustainable practices, and what’s frustrating is that when people have the right mindset, you don’t need much money at all to get things done”. This is exactly what Native Indians were trying to tell us! It’s like the difference between a trigger-happy soldier with lots of ammunition on his hands and an Indian hunter who spent all day yesterday proudly applying his father’s and grandfather’s careful teachings to carve out five deadly arrows. The soldier can afford to miss his target as many times as bullets he can fish out of his deep pockets, while our Indian hunter wouldn’t want to fail even once, lest he lose one of his laboriously crafted weapons.

“Well that’s why we need to work hard, to make lots of money, to buy many bullets, to make sure we don’t come home empty-handed”, you might argue. We study expensive MBAs, we kill ourselves writing email after email, soldiering through long meetings, saving our pennies to spend all our pounds, as we run around in circles or rise on speculation bubbles which invariably pop us right back down to where we started. Or maybe this is why we should stop firing stupid bullets at anything that moves in the forest, and learn a few tricks from our Indian hunter friend.

To these apparently primitive societies, covering their needs was not about mindless exploitation of Nature’s resources, but rather very mindful and respectful attention to all those little details betraying the presence of much-needed protein in its many life forms. In the mind of a man deeply connected to his Natural surroundings, no life should ever be wasted, and every life taken should serve the higher purpose of prolonging his family’s and tribe’s life. Sixteenth century European Catholics, Anglicans, Calvinists and Puritans, however, were brought up in a very different environment.

Centuries of armed conflict over territories and resources had destroyed all innocence to the point that Nature had become a mere silent observer of human brutality. Patriarchal thinking had fuelled the growth of civilizations running on expensive gas: slaves kept the backstage running while gold and other natural resources fed defensive armies and aggressive conquests. These early colonizers were often fleeing from a societal system that enslaved them with long hours of heavy work in exchange for a promised celestial reward somewhere in the unforeseeable future.

Still, they carried these constricting beliefs deep inside their souls even as they arrived in a land rich and heavenly abundant as they come. Our planet Earth was a heavenly paradise of abundance to hunter-gatherer tribes of the North American plains, lush forests and plentiful lakes. Worrying, working, counting or accumulating stuff you couldn’t carry with you from settlement to settlement was a terrible waste of time.

Their secret recipe was about not doing, not trying…not pursuing better futures. It was all about breathing, perceiving, admiring, listening, and deeply feeling every movement on the ground. This is how healthy prey fell into their hands, fresh river streams flowed into their mouths and safe settlement grounds emerged before their expert exploring eyes.

I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs launch a new business because they had the money to fund it and not because it was actually a good idea. We spend so many hours complaining about the lack of funding for new initiatives or projects in our companies and countries. And we work so many hours for so many days along so many decades. In search of what? When will we learn the lesson those first Indians generously tried to share with us? Wait until the wind flies in your direction.

Focus on the animal that gives into your hunter skills. Use every failure to hone your ability and sharpen your instinct. And please, please, please! Stop firing all those noisy, expensively-mined lead bullets all over the place. Stop complaining about how you need more of them. Just stop all at once. And now, breathe…


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