Looking at the news, and listening to the sentiment of those around you, sometimes it can appear as if things are getting worse and worse. But really, I think people are just getting more pessimistic, and more prone to sensationalising the problems they see in the media.
In fact, I think that because we have things so good these days, it blinds us to the actual problems facing the world. Just look at how Trump got into power by exaggerating the problems of crime and terrorism in the United States, or even when Abbott and Co managed to whip up a frenzy about how terribly Australia was doing, when we performed better than most other developed countries throughout the Great Recession. We live in one of the best countries in the world, at arguably the best time to be alive, and yet people think society is on some downwards spiral. These days you are less likely to face violent crime, disease, illiteracy, or discrimination than ever before. Yet people pine for some imaginary past where things were better (or ‘great’…)
This is why I like to make sure I read the Annual Gates Letter every year. This is the letter that Bill and Melinda Gates produce each year to highlight the progress they are making through their various humanitarian efforts. In this letter, they point out that:
“Actually, in significant ways, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been. Global poverty is going down, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving.”
There are so many people working hard around the world to make things better. The problem is, slow and gradual improvements to people’s lives doesn’t make for a good news story. You won’t see the news reporting that extreme poverty has been cut in half over the last 25 years; but it has. You won’t hear about the 122 million children’s lives saved in the past 25 years, but the numbers show this to be the case. These days the percentage of children vaccinated is higher than ever. You won’t see any front-page stories about these continued trends, and yet it is happening. In fact, when the general public was polled on this, only 1% of them believe poverty was decreasing; madness!
This year it is predicted that one of the things that humanity has been working hard for will finally pay off, and we will have zero cases of polio. Rest assured, this will make it on the news. But sadly, it will be a one-time only report, whereas negative news (like terrorist attacks, or other crimes) get repeated daily, with constant coverage of the fallout, and victims. Don’t get me wrong; I think this kind of reporting is important. But it is this very reason that people develop a pessimistic view of how the world is functioning.
Reading the Gates Letter helps me maintain optimism. It gives a clear picture of how these sustained efforts are making measurable differences, and gives me confidence that, as Bill Says, “The future will surprise the pessimists.”
And sure, there are a lot of other things that we need to address when it comes to the world stage, with inequality, war, and the environment being prime examples. However, I think it is important that we take the time to see the actual progress being made, and to take stock of the real gains being achieved each and every day by determined and dedicated human beings.