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Can You Be Like Michael Jordan–The ‘Gift’ of the ADHD Phenomenon

I do ponder what the hunter-gatherers will say to the farmers one day.  Will there be any left? Will they preface any such dialogue as they do today–reminding the farmers that Michael Jordan and Albert Einstein shared the ‘gift’.  I refer you to Thom Hartmann’s Hunter vs. Farmer theory. Being a hunter-gatherer is a way...

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I do ponder what the hunter-gatherers will say to the farmers one day.  Will there be any left? Will they preface any such dialogue as they do today–reminding the farmers that Michael Jordan and Albert Einstein shared the ‘gift’.  I refer you to Thom Hartmann’s Hunter vs. Farmer theory.

Being a hunter-gatherer is a way of life, but unfortunately in today’s society–predominantly comprised of farmers–it carries a pejorative label.

If it is a gift, let’s attribute it to being wired differently with differentially evolved brains for which there is ample evidence.

Why does it matter how we label it?  Suggesting Michael Jordan suffers from some kind of neuropsychiatric disability would be uncouth. Right?  To most he is considered super human.

Michael Jordan wasn’t just my hero at one time; he was idolized by kids around the world–here in the US and in developing countries.  I mean who would argue that “MJ” was one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the Earth. As a player he was inspirational; he was an iconic leader in the eyes of his fans and teammates.

Michael Jordan retired three times from professional basketball–a sport he helped popularize.  And last year Forbes magazine ranked him among the top 20 most powerful celebrities in the world.  This distinction reflects his success not only as an athlete, but as an entrepreneur–the preferred career path of those with ADHD.

Then there is Albert Einstein. I can’t begin to comprehend how significant his contributions to the disciplines of science have been to the modern world. Perhaps that minimizes the talent of one of the most ‘prolific intellects’ of all time.

Albert once said that “For a dreamer like me, uni­ver­sity stud­ies were not always a bless­ing. If we are forced to con­stantly eat selected meals, we can per­ma­nently spoil our stom­ach and lose our appetite.” Unfortunately, conventional schooling caters to a very homogenous demographic. Even today, everyone is expected to conform to a learning style and pursue traditional learning objectives measured by traditional means.

Einstein was not a terrible student as some suggest; he just excelled in those disciplines that interested him most.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist was once offered–albeit a ceremonious post–the presidency of Israel by then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.  He graciously declined.

More recently, Professor Einstein was posthumously named Time Magazine’s “Man of the 20th Century”.  And according to the experts he was a poster child for ADHD.

I suppose Jungle Jack Hanna, the enterprising Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo would have found graduate or professional school to have stifled his path to becoming a zoo director.  Although, he attributes his personality to a ‘natural gregariousness’ many would say he personifies a typical hunter-gatherer type. Sometimes seemingly scatter-brained, his charisma makes him a wonderful spokesperson for captive wildlife facilities and the professional zoo community.

Jack has been awarded honorary doctoral degrees for his contributions to the field of wildlife conservation.  Much like Michael Jordan popularized a sport, Jungle Jack popularized an environmental movement.

I once gave a talk to a family audience at a USFWS visitor center in Alaska.  As part of a discussion of natural history, I was trying to convey the diversity of foraging behaviors observed among the different species of bears.  With much spontaneity I discovered a fairly useful analogy for ADHD.

Take the hyper-carnivorous polar bear.  In the wild they hyperfocus on prey items–typically live seals.  They need to be in the ‘zone’; they need to be able to concentrate very carefully to ambush a seal on ice.  If they alert potential prey to their presence, the food sources swiftly slides into the sea and evades predation.  On the other hand, captive polar bears may represent a population that require intensive behavioral enrichment to prevent stereotypic pacing in zoos and other captive wildlife facilities.  They can succumb to boredom, developing aberrant, stereotyped behaviors.

People with ADHD are inclined to hyperfocus on something interesting, but become easily distracted in a conventional classroom.  Like the polar bear they are easily bored unless there is something very stimulating for their sensory modalities to engage with.  They are both hunters.

Now take the herbivorous giant panda, another specialized ursid.  They feed almost exclusively on bamboo. In theory, they could spend all day in a classroom without fidgeting, just as they could sit in a bamboo forest chewing on vegetation for hours on end.  The giant panda represents the farmer.

I suspect that some people fit somewhere between hunter-gatherer and farmer and in theory, between polar bear and giant panda.  Our aim should be to cater to this range whether it is in the class room or on the job, in captivity or in the wild.




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Meet the Author

Author Photo Jordan Carlton Schaul
With training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife, as well as conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska while (While Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (While executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition he was an ex officio member of council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management. Contact Email: