First Sign of Civilization

11 Margaret Mead Quotes that Show Change Starts with You

Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.
But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.
A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said.”
“We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.”
– Ira Byock.

History tells us trying to stop diseases like COVID-19 at the border is a failed strategy

History tells us trying to stop diseases like COVID-19 at the border is a failed  strategy

To explain why the coronavirus pandemic is much worse in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, commentators have blamed the federal government’s mismanaged response and the lack of leadership from the Trump White House.

Others have pointed to our culture of individualism, the decentralized nature of our public health, and our polarized politics.

All valid explanations, but there’s another reason, much older, for the failed response: our approach to fighting infectious disease, inherited from the 19th century, has become overly focused on keeping disease out of the country through border controls.

As a professor of medical sociology, I’ve studied the response to infectious disease and public health policy. In my new book, “Diseased States,” I examine how the early experience of outbreaks in Britain and the United States shaped their current disease control systems. I believe that America’s preoccupation with border controls has hurt our nation’s ability to manage the devastation produced by a domestically occurring outbreak of disease.

Germ theory and the military

Though outbreaks of yellow fever, smallpox, and cholera occurred throughout the 19th century, the federal government didn’t take the fight against infectious disease seriously until the yellow fever outbreak of 1878. During that same year, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the National Quarantine Act, the first federal disease control legislation.

By the early 20th century, a distinctly American approach to disease control had evolved: “New Public Health.” It was markedly different from the older European concept of public health, which emphasized sanitation and social conditions. Instead, U.S. health officials were fascinated by the newly popular “germ theory,” which theorized that microorganisms, too small to be seen by the naked eye, caused disease. The U.S. became focused on isolating the infectious. The typhoid carrier Mary Mallon, known as “Typhoid Mary,” was isolated on New York’s Brother Island for 23 years of her life.

Originally, the military managed disease control. After the yellow fever outbreak, the U.S. Marine Hospital Service (MHS) was charged with operating maritime quarantine stations countrywide. In 1912, the MHS became the U.S. Public Health Service; to this day, that includes the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps led by the surgeon general. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started as a military organization during World War II, as the Malaria Control in War Areas program. Connecting the military to disease control promoted the notion that an attack of infectious disease was like an invasion of a foreign enemy.

Germ theory and military management put the U.S. system of disease control down a path in which it prioritized border controls and quarantine throughout the 20th century. During the 1918 influenza pandemicNew York City held all incoming ships at quarantine stations and forcibly removed sick passengers into isolation to a local hospital. Other states followed suit. In Minnesota, the city of Minneapolis isolated all flu patients in a special ward of the city hospital and then denied them visitors. During the 1980s, the Immigration and Naturalization Service denied HIV-positive persons from entering the country and tested over three million potential immigrants for HIV.

Defending the nation from the external threat of disease generally meant stopping the potentially infectious from ever entering the country and isolating those who were able to gain entry.

Our mistakes

This continues to be our predominant strategy in the 21st century. One of President Trump’s first coronavirus actions was to enforce a travel ban on China and then to limit travel from Europe.

His actions were nothing new. In 2014, during the Ebola outbreakCaliforniaNew York and New Jersey created laws to forcibly quarantine health care workers returning from west Africa. New Jersey put this into practice when it isolated U.S. nurse Kaci Hickox after she returned from Sierra Leone, where she was treating Ebola patients.

In 2007, responding to pandemic influenza, the Department of Homeland Security and the CDC developed a “do not board” list to stop potentially infected people from traveling to the U.S.

When such actions stop outbreaks from occurring, they are obviously sound public policy. But when a global outbreak is so large that it’s impossible to keep out, then border controls and quarantine are no longer useful.

This is what has happened with the coronavirus. With today’s globalization, international travel, and an increasing number of pandemics, attempting to keep infectious disease from ever entering the country looks more and more like a futile effort.

Moreover, the U.S. preoccupation with border controls means we did not invest as much as we should have in limiting the internal spread of COVID-19. Unlike countries that mounted an effective response, the U.S. has lagged behind in testingcontact tracing, and the development of a robust health care system able to handle a surge of infected patients. The longstanding focus on stopping an outbreak from ever occurring left us more vulnerable when it inevitably did.

For decades, the U.S. has been underfunding public health. When “swine flu” struck the country in 2009, the CDC said 159 million doses of flu shots were needed to cover “high risk” groups, particularly health care workers and pregnant women. We only produced 32 million doses. And in a pronouncement that now looks prescient, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report said if the swine flu outbreak had been any worse, U.S. health departments would have been overwhelmed. By the time Ebola appeared in 2014, the situation was no better. Once again, multiple government reports slammed our response to the outbreak.

Many causes exist for the U.S.‘s failed response to this crisis. But part of the problem lies with our past battles with disease. By emphasizing border controls and quarantine, the U.S. has disregarded more practical strategies of disease control. We can’t change the past, but by learning from it, we can develop more effective ways of dealing with future outbreaks.





All In: It’s Culture that Drives Results

IN THE New York TimesStephen I. Sadove, chairman and chief executive of Saks Inc., explains that it is culture that drives results:


It starts with leadership at the top, which drives a culture. Culture drives innovation and whatever else you’re trying to drive within a company — innovation, execution, whatever it’s going to be. And that then drives results.

When I talk to Wall Street, people really want to know your results, what are your strategies, what are the issues, what it is that you’re doing to drive your business. They’re focused on the bottom line. Never do you get people asking about the culture, about leadership, about the people in the organization. Yet, it’s the reverse, because it’s the people, the leadership, the culture and the ideas that are ultimately driving the numbers and the results.


While we know that our most important resource is our people, it’s not so easy to get people “all in”—convincing people to “truly buy into their ideas and the strategy they’ve put forward, to give that extra push that leads to outstanding results.”

All In by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton explains why some managers are able to get their employees to commit wholeheartedly to their culture and give that extra push that leads to outstanding results and how managers at any level, can build and sustain a profitable, vibrant work-group culture of their own. All In takes the principles found in their previous books—The Orange Revolution and The Carrot Principle—and expands on them and places them in a wider context.


They begin by explaining that it all rests on the “belief factor.” People want to believe, but given the fact that “failure could cost them their future security why shouldn’t they be at least a little dubious about your initiatives?” But belief is key. “As leaders we must first allow people on our teams to feel like valuable individuals, respecting their views and opening up to their ideas and inputs, even while sharing a better way forward. It’s a balancing act that requires some wisdom.”

To have a culture of belief employees must feel not only engaged, but enabled and energized. What’s more, “each element of E+E+E can be held hostage by an imbalance in the other two.”


The authors have created a 7 step guide to develop a culture where people buy-in:

Define your burning platform. “Your ability to identify and define the key “burning” issue you face and separate it from the routine challenges of the day is the first step in galvanizing your employees to believe in you and in your vision and strategy.”

Create a customer focus. “Your organization must evolve into one that not only rewards employees who spot customer trends or problems, but one that finds such challenges invigorating, one that empowers people at all levels to respond with alacrity and creativity.”

Develop agility. “Employees are more insistent than ever that their managers see into the future and do a decent job of addressing the coming challenges and capitalizing on new opportunities.”

Share everything. “When we aren’t sure what’s happening around us, we become distrustful….In a dark work environment, where information is withheld or not communicated properly, employees tend to suspect the worst and rumors take the place of facts. It is openness that drives out the gray and helps employees regain trust in culture.”

Partner with your talent. “Your people have more energy and creativity to give. There are employees now in your organization walking around with brilliant ideas in their pocket. Some will never share them because they don’t have the platform to launch those ideas on their own. Most, however, will never reveal them because they don’t feel like a partner in the organization.”

Root for each other. “Our research shows incontrovertible evidence that employees respond best when they are recognized for things they are good at and for those actions where they had to stretch. It is this reinforcement that makes people want to grow to their full shape and stature.”

Establish clear accountability. “To grow a great culture, you need to cultivate a place where people have to do more than show up and fog a mirror; they have to fulfill promises—not only collectively but individually.” And this has to be a positive idea.

Gostick and Elton explain that the “modern leader provides the why, keeps an ear close to those they serve, is agile and open, treats their people with deference, and creates a place where every step forward is noted and applauded.”

The authors skillfully examine high-performing cultures and present the elements that produce them. A leader at any level can implement these ideas to drive results. A great learning tool.