It’s Getting Better All The Time

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.

Read this letter!


Spirit on the Spirit of Tasmania

Ok, so some people may know that my family and I were on the recent Spirit of Tasmania voyage that lost a man overboard.

I don’t want to sensationalise things, or try and make this a thing about myself, but after having this experience, I do want to say a couple of things on the subject.

One thing that I say to my son as often as I can when bad things happen is that I believe people are inherently good. It may be naive, but that is what I think. And I love the fact that this view gets vindicated so often; time and time again. Sure there are horrible examples of people doing terrible things, but these are the outliers, and I would argue that the bulk of humanity are good decent people.

So when the alarm sounded on-board last night, and people drifted drearily yet urgently toward the mass meeting at the rear of the Spirit of Tasmania, it would have been easy to imagine people being irritated, or annoyed at such an upset to their plans. But when people began to understand the nature of the situation, and that it was someone’s life possibly on the line it was amazing to see everyone come together in solidarity.

No one was complaining; no one appeared irritated. There was a solemn atmosphere as everyone’s thoughts were clearly with the man overboard, and the rescuers putting their lives at risk to help (one of whom was apparently injured).

People are inherently good.

What’s more, you hear a lot about people alleging our current selfie generation, and how people are all too keen to snap a photo, or click a button, rather than engage in something truly human. Yet when there were lights spotted out the windows, and people could see the rescue vehicles going about their job trying to provide essential assistance, there was no flurry of cameras, there were no extended arms trying awkwardly to get cameras far enough to include their owners faces in the frame. People were interested yes, people looked on, and passed on information to those around them. But it wasn’t selfish, it wasn’t for them; it was for others.

People are inherently good.

After nearly three hours sitting in our makeshift meeting area, when we would all have preferred to be sleeping in our undulating cabins, nary a complaint was heard. People were worried, people may have been scared, but they were nevertheless united in an understanding that no matter what inconvenience might have befallen us that night, it paled in comparison to whatever was taking place on the roiling seas below, and the impact it would have on other peoples lives.

People are inherently good.

In those seas below was yet another sign of people lending a hand. Two freighters joined the search, circling in a makeshift flotilla of hope. The second Spirit of Tasmania halted its journey back to Melbourne to lend a hand, and remained there until early this morning. The crew had earlier asked for help in spotting the man in need of rescue, scores of hands rose instantly in the air.

People are inherently good, and though this was undoubtedly a terrible event, a horrible night on the Bass Strait that appears to ultimately have ended with a life lost. It nevertheless reinforced in my mind the fact that us humans are deep down a decent bunch. We care about others we don’t know, we are willing to put aside ourselves when others are in need, and we do it all instinctively.

People are inherently good.