A couple of weeks ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote an article in the New York Times titled, “Why 2017 Was The Best Year In History”. The title alone was enough to make me want to read his article because if you listen to our nightly news you might not agree with Kristof about how good a year it’s been. One of the characteristics we must guard against in our day and age of the non-stop, 24-hour news cycle is the loss of perspective. We too easily can’t see the forest because of the trees. We tend to lose sight of the bigger picture—the view from 30,000 feet.
For us, the war of words with North Korea, paralysis in Congress, and the never-ending tweets from our current President lead many of us to feel like things have never been worse. Kristof would have us consider other facts. For instance, a smaller share of the world’s people are hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time in history. A smaller percentage of children died than ever before.
Every day the number of people in the world living in extreme poverty goes down—according to Kristof by over 200,000 a day! Every day, over 300,000 people gain access to electricity. Another 300,000 gain access to clean water—every day!
As recently as the late 1960s, a majority of the human beings on this planet were illiterate and lived in abject poverty. Today, fewer than 15% are illiterate and fewer than 10% are living in dire poverty. In another 15 years, both illiteracy and life-threatening poverty might be eradicated.
Just since 1990, 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations.
It’s hard for most of us to get our heads around such “good news”. We are so bombarded by “the sky is falling” type of news, that we become numb to the realities that our efforts around the world are working.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said the test of a first rate intelligence is the capacity to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time. The world we live in is experiencing amazing progress, but our world also faces mortal threats. The first belief should empower us to act on the second.
Kristof tells of a young Afghan girl named Sultana. She had been forced to drop out of elementary school. But her home had access to internet, so she taught herself English, then algebra and calculus. Without ever leaving her house, she moved on to Physics and string theory. Long story short, Sultana is now a student at Arizona State University. She is a living example of the aphorism, “talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”
Yes, there are parts of the world that are a mess—maybe even close to home. But we must not lose sight of the gains being made in medicine, education, and human welfare around the world. Every so often we would be wise to turn off our T.V.s and ponder all that is going right.