During his journey to discover a new trade route to the Far East, Columbus stumbled upon the West Indies -- and mistook them for the outlying islands of Asia. They did not provide the spices, gold or diamonds the investment plan had envisioned, so Columbus taxed the indigenous people.
When taxing did not work, Columbus transitioned to slave trade. Historians often gloss over his participation in the slave trade, cruelty and harsh rule over the islands. With his great discovery came great tragedy for the indigenous peoples.
The central theme in Columbus' story was what biographer David Boyle labels as "congenital optimism" in "Toward the Setting Sun: Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci and the Race for America," (Walker & Co., 2008). This was Columbus' strength -- his persistence in presenting his concept and his decision not to turn around when faced with near mutiny, but to sail onward for three more days, which led to the discovery of the West Indies.
"It was done with few resources and originally by a handful of adventurers on the margins of mainstream business and navigation," notes Boyle. But their discovery led to "gigantic intellectual and scientific leaps in the space of a generation."
For those of us occasionally overwhelmed, it may be helpful to remember that there have been times in human history when the situation was dire and the outcome could not have been imagined. Just keep in mind what human ingenuity and persistence can discover.
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