Corn, Cotton and Chocolate: How the Maya Changed the World

No civilization in the history of our planet existed longer than the ancient Mayans. The historic period that they were at the forefront of lasted for 3500 years. This is an unheard of figure and, arguably, one which will never be beat. This civilization reigned from roughly 2500 B.C. to 900 A.D. However, most of what they achieved went all but unnoticed. There was no written or oral news to traverse the globe to describe their exploits and the impact they had on the planet and the rest of mankind. In essence, they were the ‘phantoms of history’.

CORN, COTTON AND CHOCOLATE: HOW THE MAYANS CHANGED THE WORLD looks like a textbook, something you might have to purchase for your Social Studies class. It could also be a highly quoted text to aid in your term paper or thesis research. Sounds like some pretty dry stuff, huh? I am happy to say that in the hands of author James O’Kon, this eye-opening work was never short on surprises and could gladly hold the interest of any intelligent person seeking to learn more about perhaps the most influential civilization of all-time.

Rather than a straight chapter by chapter review I thought I would make things more interesting.

10 Things The World Can Thank The Mayans For
1. The Mayans were Cosmic Philosophers. They always considered themselves sky watchers and this need to understand the universe above and around us made them the earliest known astronomers. They were able to gain an uncanny knowledge of the harmonious composition of the cosmos. Yes, well before Carl Sagan!
2. They were the greatest agronomists in word history. They made famous the term cultivar. Not just an assemblage of plants or flowers but a natural process honed through careful cultivation. They can thank Columbus for spreading the word around his global journeys about the original ‘flower power’ people.
3. The invention of the number zero. This is nothing to laugh at (no pun intended). Mathematicians have proclaimed that one of the singular accomplishments of the human era, and the greatest intellectual feat of the Maya, was the number zero. This was a culture that was so introspective and intelligent that they were actually able to grasp the concept of something having no value — but still making it the starting point for numerical sequences!
4. Maize. Long thought to be a Native American find, Maize or as we more commonly refer to it — corn — was brought about due to sophisticated cultivation of high yielding grain. Some have called it the Maya’s greatest invention. They were eons ahead of the trend of genetic manipulation in creating food products — particularly, one in which people today cannot go to the movies without enjoying the ‘hot air-popped’ version of Maize.
5. The avocado. The fruit botanically known as Persea americana has grown in popularity in recent years due to its’ health benefits. This tropical delight is the central ingredient in the beloved Guacamole Dip. The Mayans cultivated Avocado trees whose origins may stretch back to the Cenozoic Era.
6. The Cassava and how it changed the way the world is fed. Cassava root was also mass cultivated by the Mayans and the ‘bread of the tropics’ took off in many different cultures throughout the world. This great source of carbohydrates stands behind only sugarcane and sugar beets in that category.
7. Bubble Gum. O’Kon talks about the mass-produced sticks of hard gum that used to accompany every package of baseball cards (long before collectors scoffed at the practice as lowering their value). We can thank the Mayans who took Chicle or the sap of the sapodilla tree and turned it into a substance to be chewed and enjoyed. Not sure if they actually blew bubbles with it or not…
8. Chocolate/Cocoa. Many of us, particularly the ladies, have a very personal relationship with chocolate. Can you imagine Valentine’s Day or Easter without it? It was the Mayans love affair with chocolate and cocoa in general, four millennia ago, that made this the treat of choice. Yes, they even made a warm, frothy beverage from it!
9. Cotton. This has long been attributed to the great cotton plantations of the southern United States. However, it was once again the expert cultivation of the wild cotton plant that turned this into the world’s most valuable and productive vegetable fiber. It also makes for some really smooth and breathable fabric for clothing.
10. Tobacco. Cigarette and cigar smoking, along with the second-hand smoke they produce, may be taboo in recent years due to the adverse health conditions they can cause. That being said, it is impossible to not recognize how every civilization has been touched by tobacco — from Native American peace pipes to the Marlboro Man. Again, the Mayans cultivation of Nicotiana paved the way for a vice that has been enjoyed by every civilization that followed them.

Book Reveals That Our Social Impact Personality Type Determines How We Do Good

Do Good, Feel Better, by Laura McKnight, is a feel-good book that will make you realize how you can feel even better by doing good-and perhaps best of all-in the ways that best suit you.

Almost everyone wants to do good-to help those in need and to make the world a better place-but too often, we feel guilty when we have to say no, or we have too many other obligations for us to focus on doing good, or we just don’t feel comfortable with the ways to do good that are available to us. All that will change for you once you read Do Good, Feel Better because you’ll discover what your Social Impact Personality Type is and the best ways to do good according to your personality.

McKnight reveals that there are three Social Impact Personality Types: Activator, Connector, and Investor. She defines them as follows:

“Connectors prefer to engage in social impact activities that are social in nature, involving the opportunity to get together with other people, although not necessarily in pursuit of a specific charitable endeavor.

“Activators are passionate about participating in the causes they care most about, and tend to focus on ‘changing the world’ and impacting one or more social issues on a broad scale.

“Investors prefer to engage in social impact activities that are independent and do not require scheduling dedicated time or working directly with others in the pursuit of a charitable endeavor.”

McKnight also offers a quiz at her website to help people determine which type they are. She then walks readers through the 10 Ways to Do Good, a list she derived from years of research and interviewing thousands of people. Some of the ways to do good may be surprising, while others may seem obvious. For example, volunteering makes the list, but so does purchasing-where you purchase items because the company manufacturing them will give a percentage of the sales to a worthy cause. Other ways to do good include marketing, recycling, and sharing. The great thing about these 10 Ways to Do Good is that each way has components that will work for you no matter whether you are an Activator, Connector, or Investor. And McKnight gives examples of how each way is applicable to each personality type.

These connections McKnight reveals are great because they make doing good all about how the individual wants to do good. Ann-Marie Harrington, the founder of Embolden, who works today with McKnight at RenPSG, North America’s largest independent provider of philanthropic solutions, highlights this point in the book’s Foreword:

“[T]his book is about-you. It’s about realizing what truly gets you going when it comes to doing good and, equally as important, just how much good you’re already doing. By learning about the different ways to do good and finding your Type, the good just grows-along with all the positive feelings that come with knowing you’re changing the world, adding meaning, making a social impact, and building on your own success.”

As an extra bonus, the book doesn’t stop after it walks readers through the 10 Ways to Do Good. The second half is composed of numerous helpful articles that answer questions many people may have about doing good. These articles cover such topics as what you need to know if you set up your own charity, what kinds of charitable contributions are tax deductible, and how you can figure out the best ways to motivate your employees to do good in ways they want to. There’s even a list of 100 things you may need to know in the process of doing good. There’s also advice on how to research charities to determine “Is it a charity, or is it a mystery?” Sometimes it’s hard to know which causes are most deserving of our dollars, so McKnight discusses a solution to that conundrum in the form of donor-advised funds. Finally, I appreciated that she discussed the issue of guilt that arises when you say no to certain causes; she advocates for simply doing good in the ways that work and feel best to you.