THE SYSTEM IS NOT BROKEN?

Protestors in Chattanooga
Protestors in Chattanooga

As I listened to Minnesota’s Governor Walz’s June 2nd news conference, I was dumbfounded to hear him say at the beginning of his opening remarks, “…This isn’t about a broken system. This is about a system that’s functioning absolutely as it was designed, unfortunately that’s meant to exclude some from it.”   

Wow, I don’t recall ever hearing a politician talk like that. My shock propelled me into listening to news conference and reading a copy of the transcript several times and then writing this post.

Until a few days ago I didn’t know the name of or anything about the governor of Minnesota. However, this changed after watching the news conference that may become recognized as an important event leading to sweeping changes in the institutional, social, and economic structure of the United States of America. 

To be clear, I still know nothing about his political record or what he did before entering politics and am basing the following opinions solely on his June 2nd press conference. I believe that the conference was an example of the  leadership our country needs especially in these turbulent times. 

Note that this view is informed by values and assumptions that form the groundwork of our book, Bring Out The Best In Others. Although there are several qualities that truly great leaders emanate, a crucial one is that they have the ability to bring out the best in the citizens they govern. The June 2nd news conference suggested  that Governor Walz has the ability to do this in Minnesota, as well as being a model for leaders nation-wide and even world-wide. Here is why I believe this. 

In his opening remarks, Governor Walz appears to listen to everybody and doesn’t reflexively turn a deaf ear to those he disagrees or cannot identify with. And it seems he listens with empathy and humility. He admits his limitations, one of them being that as a white man he cannot really know the full extent of pain of the black community. He calls out unacceptable behavior without resorting to personal insults or wild and damaging speculations about others. He focuses on systemic and individual behavior change instead of vilifying others’ character or intelligence. 

Throughout his remarks, Mr. Walz stressed the necessity of forming a stronger sense of community between law enforcement and citizens. It seemed clear that his intent was one of unifying, not dividing. He was clear that he believed peace in communities cannot be maintained by stronger shows of force but by “addressing the systemic issues that caused it in the first place.” Although he does not devalue the need for law and order, he implies that building safe communities where all citizens are given equal opportunities to pursue their own conceptions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness requires a partnership between police and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect. 

Specifically, Governor Walz announced that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights was filing a “charge of discrimination to launch a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).” This investigation will include reviewing the MPD’s policies and procedures during the past ten years to determine if the department has used systemic and discriminatory practices toward “people of color”. 

The Need For a Sense of Community

The Governor stated that this will be one of many efforts to restore trust between the police and the citizens they have sworn to serve and protect. Although the announced civil rights investigation will be limited to the MPD, his remarks made clear this was a nation-wide issue. It was also evident from his statement that reforms beyond policing policies and practices are needed. The following short quote says a lot.

“I’m listening and one of the things I need to do is use that ability to change and build coalitions to make this situation that has become intolerable across the nation, that will not go away with tough talk and more people on the streets in uniform. It will go away with the sense of community you see being displayed on the state capitol lawn today with law enforcement and the people that they serve seeing themselves as neighbor in the same society and the same opportunities for their children.”

The recognition of injustice for minorities has remarkably and, I believe encouragingly, gone beyond Minnesota. A recent Wikipedia entry lists over 500 American cities (including cities in several American territories) that have had protests fueled by the killing of George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Compare this to the protests and riots in 1967 and 1968 in which at about 100 American cities were involved. Wikipedia also reports that similar protests have occurred in at least 40 countries which represent every continent except Antartica. 

Issues Deep and Wide

It also should be becoming clearer to everyone that these issues have deep and long-standing roots that go way beyond the Minneapolis Police Department. Racial biases have flourished in social, economic, and institutional domains since before the birth of America. One could argue it goes back thousands of years, but going back 400 years is a good start. Although the Governor’s address focused on the MPD, he hinted at other social, economic, and institutional factors but did not provide specific plans to address them. 

However, I believe the Untied States and probably most of the world will need to acknowledge and address the laws, regulations, government procedures, and social and individual beliefs and attitudes that foster inequality for many, if not most, members of minority communities. This is truly a Herculean and multifaceted task which will require hearing voices from representatives of everyone who is a stakeholder in this process. And, I believe that every American, as well as every person on the planet, has a stake in this process. It  will likely take years and change will likely seem to move too slowly and incrementally for some. And of course almost all changes, even the those viewed positively by a huge majority of people, will present new challenges. 

A Model News Conference

At the end of Governor Walz’s ten minute opening statement, he briefly announced the speakers that would follow, including the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor. The other speakers included the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety and the Executive Director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, 

The speakers amplified the governor’s remarks while providing some additional details. I was struck by the coherence and consistency of the messaging during the entire news conference, including the question and answer period which followed the speeches. The whole news conference lasted about one hour. 

After the other speakers had finished, Governor Walz thanked them and concisely and cogently summed up the main points of the news conference. In doing so, he again revealed his humility, empathy, ability to listen and understand, and his determination and persistence in moving forward on these issues now. A slightly edited transcript follows.

“I’ve heard so many people tell me the anxiety they’re feeling from COVID-19 and how this was unbearable and that children and adults are dreading when the sun was going down. What’s going to happen, pins and needles. If I watch the news and wake up in the morning, what happened? And they’re so hoping they can go back, which we want to get to that sense of security as part of community so you can make the choice to get up in the morning and go for a run, go golfing, spend time with your family, go out to eat and do your job or whatever. That sense of not feeling anxiety. 

Then I had a lot of community members tell me, you know, that sense of anxiety you have, I get it driving my car because I’m black and get pulled over. I have that sense of anxiety all the time in certain situations because of how I’m viewed. 

So if we stand and say why does this matter to us? Just restore order and everything will be fine. For some. That is our whole issue here. Until we can make this state, this country and our society one where that anxiety goes away because everybody feels the same sense of security and the system is there to serve them, that is the only way we prevent this from happening again. 

I pray to God that no governor in the history of Minnesota from now on ever has to mobilize a force to be on the streets to put out fires and to stop what we saw happen. And the only way i’m going to ensure that doesn’t happen for everybody who follows is to take this moment and make the systemic change. That’s one step today, but let me tell you, it is one step of many.”

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Transcript of Governor Walz’s Opening Remarks

Below is an excerpted and edited transcript of Mr. Walz’s opening remarks. (If you’re pressed for time, read the passages in bold.) The entire news conference can be viewed, along with a transcript at this link: https://www.c-span.org/video/?472707-1/minnesota-governor-launches-investigation-minneapolis-police-department

…We saw thousands gather in front of the beautiful Minnesota governor’s residence that my family and I have the privilege of occupying for a short time. The pain of the families that were there was visceral. The anger of a system that seems to continue on. A group of people that know very clearly this isn’t about a broken system. This is about a system that’s functioning absolutely as it was designed, unfortunately that’s meant to exclude some from it….

But I think all of us have come to understand we’re not going to restore peace on our streets by having a bigger group of national guard show up. We’re not going to establish peace on our streets by keeping a curfew in place all the time. We’re going to establish peace on our streets when we address the systemic issues that caused it in the first place and that is what every voice on the capitol is saying, voices in front of my house is saying, that’s what Terrance Floyd is saying and that’s what we need to start saying. 

Whether it was from the colonial period through Jim Crow, it’s still with us… This will not go away once the fires are put out and there’s a lull… So I hear you and I’ve listened to community leaders and we together have seen this. City council members and others and are asking for structural change, specifically things that we can deal with and today, I’m here to talk about the structural change that needs to start with the Minneapolis police department and I can tell you this, I have talked to countless officers, I saw them take a knee out of respect in front of my house yesterday. Although there weren’t a lot of people there happy with them, but they did it because there’s not one of those officers I talked to that wasn’t sickened to the core about what they witnessed, knowing that when you’re part of an organization the culture permeates all of us. A culture that allows things to happen. A culture where the public cannot trust. 

We know that this is systemic, not just in Minneapolis and Minnesota, but it needs to start somewhere. It needs to start where we know things happen. And I know what organizations look like when you’re serving. I have served in some of the finest organizations whether they were public schools or whether in the national guard. And the leadership and the type of things you’re committed to make a difference. And they can be generational. We know that deeply seeded issues exist and the reason I know it is we saw the casual nature of the erasing of George Floyd’s life and humanity. We also know by the reaction of the community. They expected nothing to happen and the reason is, because nothing did happen for so many times…. 

So Minnesotans you can expect our administration to use every tool at our disposal to try to deconstruct systemic racism that is generations deep and we need to do it with the community, but I think the thing i’m hearing from the protesters is, we’re not watching and we don’t care what you say. We care what you do. 

So today as a step towards that deconstruction of systemic racism the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is filing a commissioner’s charge of discrimination to launch a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. The investigation will review MPD’S policies procedures and practices over the last ten years to determine if the department has utilized systemic discriminatory practices towards people of color. 

This is the first time the state is launching a civil rights investigation into the systemic discriminatory practices of the largest police department in the state. It is also the only investigation surrounding the killings of George Floyd how focussing on the policies and practices implemented by the Minneapolis police department. 

When the Minnesota department of human rights finds civil rights violations they seek change to prevent it from occurring again. They will seek an agreement with the Minneapolis Police Department to implement interim measures immediately in advance of long-term measures to address systemic discriminatory practices. 

This effort is only one of many steps to come in our efforts to restore trust within those communities who have been unseen, unheard, and believe that those that are charged to serve and protect not only don’t do that, they work against them. 

And I say this as a white man who walks through life with pretty much relative ease. I can’t ever know the pain of that black community members but I hear you. I’m listening and one of the things I need to do is use that ability to change and build coalitions to make this situation that has become intolerable across the nation that will not go away with tough talk and more people on the streets in uniform, it will go away with the sense of community you see being displayed on the state capitol lawn today with law enforcement and the people that they serve seeing themselves as neighbor in the same society and the same opportunities for their children. 

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Asking For Help Part 2

We recently started walking the Camino de Santiago. As is usual in most aspects of our lives, the Camino isn’t going quite as we had expected. We are learning about our limitations of walking, especially uphill with heavy packs. Sheila slept a total of one hour during our first night in a peregrinos’ Albergue, mostly due to several heavy snorers among our 100 plus fellow pilgrims. Sheila expressed her concern the tiles would shake loose from the roof due to the vibrations. We stayed at a much smaller and considerably quieter albergue a few nights ago and both got more sleep, but still not enough. 

Since we were facing several kilometers of a steep uphill climb and the rain was pouring down the next morning, we took an alternate Camino path downhill to a small village. We had learned this village had a bus stop and our plan was to bus it to our next destination. We waited for the bus which was due at 10:00 AM. It did not come. 

After trying to call the Pamplona bus station without success, Sheila approached a woman who was walking a dog in her bathrobe. (The woman was wearing the bathrobe.) In her limited Spanish, Sheila asked the woman if the bus was coming that day (on Sunday). We think she replied that a bus was doubtful. She left but soon came back up with the bus schedule on her cell phone. Since we were having trouble communicating with her, she called her niece who came around the corner within minutes. In fluent English, her niece explained the 10:00 bus was not coming, but thought another bus would arrive in about four hours. We thanked her, got directions to nearby restaurant, and started toward it. 

About half-way to the restaurant, we heard a woman calling to us. Our bus info friend, still in her bathrobe, came running around the corner. She pantomimed driving and inviting us back toward her home. We waited outside talking with her niece, while the woman changed her clothes. Then to our surprise, in this humble little town, we got into her brand new Mercedes. She sped off to Estella, which would have taken us about eight days to walk to given our usual pace. 

In addition to the almost surreal and certainly unexpected method of getting to where we wanted to go, we had the pleasure of getting to know both the woman and her niece. We gathered some insight into the culture of their small Spanish village. Almost all family members have continued to live in the village for many generations. They often have to find work in neighboring towns or nearby Pamplona. Every Sunday the extended family gets together for dinner. They also learned a bit about us and our current adventures. We assume their experience with us provided them a good story to tell at dinner.

This woman and her niece went out of their way to respond to our questions about the Sunday bus schedule. Then they went way beyond our request for help. Of course, this would not have happened if we had not initially asked for help. 

Back To The Blog

On the road with Donald in Scotland
Rick is on the road with Donald in Scotland

We had just started getting into a bit of a rhythm in blogging at the beginning of the summer, and then we began our traveling adventures. Our adventures started by visiting our youngest daughter and a nephew and niece in Pennsylvania and then we flew to Dublin, Ireland, in mid-July. For the past two months we have been traveling around Western Europe on a tight budget with our possessions in two 30 liter backpacks. We’ve travelled in Ireland, Scotland, England, and now Spain. 

While being so immersed in our incredible adventures and moving from place to place, we mostly neglected finishing the steps involved in publishing our book and entirely neglected posting on this blog. We did spend several days in the quiet countryside of south-central Ireland working on the book, discovering the realities of publishing were considerably more complex and time consuming than we had imagined. We were also frustrated by the inconsistent internet service there.  

Toward the end of August, we felt the urgency to actually publish our book, Bring Out The Best In Others. Staying in one place for a while seemed to be the only way to accomplish this. Thus, we planned to stay two weeks in Barcelona and are now in the middle of our third week here. Our book was published a few days ago and its official launch is Monday, September 16.  We are finally writing a new post.

The idea to write this book emerged nearly three-years-ago during our initial travels in Costa Rica and Panama. (You can learn more about this in our June 26, 2018 post, An Origin Story)

Our current travels have reinforced and expanded the ideas we wrote about in the book. So, we have decided to focus on reviewing and extending these ideas in our next series of posts. 

Asking For Help

Bring Out The Best In Others briefly discusses asking for help as a way to connect with people and bring out their best. We find ourselves lost and clueless in all sorts of ways as we travel to new and strange places. Although we have become more expert using Google Maps to find our way, there have been many times it is not enough.

For instance, when we first arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, figuring out the correct bus stop to get to Roslin (where our Airbnb was located) was challenging. Several people helped guide us to the correct stop to catch the bus. We had learned that although Roslin was only seven miles from Edinburgh city centre, there would be 59 stops before ours. After getting on the correct bus, we started conversing with two older ladies sitting behind us. After communicating our confusion, they were eager to help us and assured us we would find the correct exit. We became their project. Since they were getting off the bus before us, they passed us on to their friends and those friends passed on to others. The “network” made sure we were informed to get off the bus at the correct stop. As we got off the bus and started looking around for our Airbnb, another woman, who had heard much of the conversation, pointed us in the right direction. 

We talked to several women at length during the hour-long bus ride. After sharing that we had been living in Panama the past several years, one woman told us about how her husband had worked on the Panama Canal and was well-known for engineering work around Scotland. 

We believe that most people want to help others and will go out of their way to do so when asked to. But you have to ask. Although there have been a few instances where our clueless looks and behavior have prompted others to ask, “Can I help you?”, generally, you need to ask.  

The above example is a relatively trivial example. We hope you will also consider asking for help in serious situations. It’s probably most important to ask for help from others when you feel like withdrawing from all human relationships.

We’d love to hear your experiences in asking for help (in the comments below).

 

 

Protect Yourself From Negativity

Iceberg drawing
Iceberg by Moteoo at Pixabay

Our last post covered the negativity tendency or instinct which is one of the ten reasons Hans Rosling gives to explain why many people mistakenly think the world is getting worse. He proposed three main reasons for this negativity instinct.

    • We selectively remember the past.
    • The news media and activists selectively report events.
    • It would be “heartless” to say (or think) that things are getting better when there are still a lot of bad things going on in the world.  

We ended that post by saying that, after reviewing the facts, many of us might rationally accept that by many measures the world is getting better for most people. However, it still might not feel that way to you.

In our book, Bring Out The Best In Others, we often mention the importance of our gut feelings or intuition about things. We believe that people often make a decision based on their feeling and then make up rational arguments to support their decisions. 

The Supreme Rationalizers?

Supreme court judges are supposed to be the most dispassionate people on Earth when making case decisions. For example, during Senate confirmation hearing, Elena Kagan (Obama’s second Supreme Court Justice nominee) was asked if a judge would ever take his or her feelings into account. She replied, “It’s law all the way down”. (From the Texas Law Review, referenced below.)  

However, we tend to believe Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served on the Supreme Court from 1941 until his death in 1954. “He reportedly equated dispassionate judges to mythical beings like ‘Santa Claus’ or ‘Uncle Sam’ or ‘Easter bunnies’.” (Texas Law Review, referenced below)

Strategies To Counteract The Negativity Tendency

Rosling points out that one way to keep our negativity instinct in check is to realize that the media’s job is not to bring us a balanced view of the world. Before consuming any type of media, remind yourself that you most likely read, hear, or see the most sensational and worst the world has to offer. You could then remind yourself the world is progressing for the better in many ways, although it is still far from perfect. We highly recommend that you read Rosling’s book, Factfulness, to understand the details.

However, the constant barrage of the worst of the world can seep into our pores and take up residence in our unconscious feelings and beliefs. They can remain impervious to our conscious thoughts we bring to combat them. This is why strict forms of cognitive therapy that attempt to replace illogical and unhealthy thoughts with logical and healthy thoughts may not work well for some people.

The Iceberg Metaphor 

To understand this theory better, picture the Freudian-inspired iceberg metaphor. Our immediately available conscious experience includes our perceptions of the material world and the thoughts, imaginations, intuitions, and emotions of our interior world. By tradition, this is the top of the iceberg and accounts for only 10 percent of our overall experience of mind.

The preconscious mind can be thought of as another 10 percent of the iceberg, which is around water level. The preconscious, consisting of memories and various forms of knowledge, is available to the conscious mind some of the time. In terms of the iceberg metaphor, you can imagine that during certain phases of the moon and tide, more of the iceberg is above water—and available to the conscious mind. At other times, less is available to the conscious mind.

In our iceberg metaphor, unconscious mental processes are represented by the completely submerged part of the iceberg that rarely rises above the water and comes into conscious awareness. We might get some conscious idea of the unconscious mind through our dreams or long-term psychoanalysis. Tradition tells us the unconscious accounts for almost 80 percent of the total mind.

What We Are Suggesting

We are speculating the that many of our judgments about others and the world are firmly rooted in the unconscious. One can chip away at the top of the iceberg, through rational arguments and the presentation of facts. However, this will have little impact on the deep feelings, intuitions, and beliefs whose roots lie near the bottom of iceberg. 

You may have a friend whose social, political, or religious beliefs are 180 degrees from yours. You have developed a set of facts and rational arguments that you are sure will lead her to see your side of things and maybe even join your camp. Although this rarely happens in real life, let’s say she gives you the time to present your facts and arguments. She appears to listen but her worldview does not budge. 

You then respectfully listen to her facts and arguments. A little later, you realize you also have not budged. Both of your iceberg minds hold solid. 

What can we do then?

The first thing to realize is that the roots of our own feelings, intuitions, and beliefs are buried deep in our unconscious. A quick fix is unlikely. Using some type of Socratic dialogue to make others realize their own errors and see the truth of your positions works out well only in fictional books and movies. 

Although we will be listening to others and posting about this for a long time, here we present a few possible strategies.  

Actively Shape Your World

Candy Buffett by Epicioci from Pixabay
Candy Buffett by Epicioci from Pixabay

We have eaten at buffets where almost every item looks delectable but will likely, in the long-run, reduce both your life expectancy and the quality of your remaining years. We have occasionally been surprised that everyone made it out of the dining room on their own power. 

The lesson here is that you don’t have to consume everything your body and mind can possibly incorporate, even when it is right in front of you. In fact, if you do this, you will most likely get sick. Just because you have a TV, phone, computer, or tablet that can feed you sensational and mostly bad news 24/7, doesn’t mean you have to consume it. 

We recommend choosing a media diet that consists mostly of uplifting stories that still give you a balanced view of the world. Choose messengers and stories that, when consumed and processed, will put you in a state of openness, receptivity, compassion, love, peace, and a drive for action. We are not suggesting you block everything distressful or violent, but to consume these media-produced events in proportion to what is happening in the real world. 

We believe that too many of us choose media coverage that leads to anger, suspicion of almost everything, fearfulness, hatefulness, and the need to block themselves off from much of the world. Note that we are referring to social media, as well as traditional media sources. 

Investigate for yourself what type of media drives down near the bottom of your iceberg—that effects your deep-down feelings, beliefs, and intuitions. For many, the most powerful media in this regard is video.  It is often easier to un-hear or un-read something than to un-see it. We might better feast on written accounts of disturbing news, if we feel the need for this kind of news at all. In doing so, we will probably get a wider and more representative view of the situation, while the disturbing aspects will not borrow so deeply in our unconscious.  

Remember that that entire world is your personal media. The places you choose to go, the movies you watch, the books you read, the friends you make, your causal conversations with strangers, and your more intimate conversations with loved ones—you consume them all, while  your own speech and actions are consumed by others. 

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There are several other strategies that, when practiced regularly, can lead to a deep reprogramming of the unconscious mind. There are both anecdotal reports and research results that spending some time every day focusing on what we are grateful for leads to number of psychological benefits including increased peace of mind. We also recommend mindfulness meditation, prayer, and spiritual contemplation.

As we mentioned before, we will continue to investigate and report ways of clearing our unhealthy unconscious processes. Please comment on your own thoughts and experience concerning this issue.  

References

Texas Law Review [Vol. 93:855 Heart Versus Head: Do Judges Follow the Law or Follow Their Feelings? By Andrew J. Wistrich,* Jeffrey J. Rachlinski** & Chris Guthrie. Accessed 5-16-2019@ 

http://texaslawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Rachlinski-93-4.pdfThe 

Why Do Many Believe The World Is Getting Worse?

Countryside Train
Countryside Train by Senuscape from PEXELS

Our last post, titled How Are Things Going In Your World, was inspired by the book, Factfulness, by Hans Rosling. If you haven’t yet read that post, you might want to before reading this one.

Were you drawn in by the description of a poverty stricken, scary, and declining world? If so, you are in good company. Our dismal description of the state of the world reflected the views of a large majority of the nearly 12,000 participants in Rosling’s studies.  

Rosling says that the most common statement he has heard is that the world is getting worse. His studies show that a majority of people in the world believe this. He asked people in 30 countries and territories, “Overall, do you think the world is getting better, staying the same, or getting worse?” (Rosling, Hans. Factfulness, p. 49. Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.) The majority in every country believed the world was getting worse. The percentage approached 90 percent of people in some countries. 

Among many facts that show things are getting better, Rosling points out that the average life expectancy in the world in 1800 was 30. Today it is 72.

In this post, we will discuss one of the reasons that Rosling gives for the common belief that the world is in such sorry shape and getting worse.

Why Do a Majority of Us Believe the World is Getting Worse?

Rosling believes most people have a negativity instinct, which means we tend to notice and remember bad things more than good things. He believes at least three things contribute to this:

  • We selectively remember the past.
  • The news media and activists selectively report events.
  • It would be “heartless” to say (or think) that things are getting better when there are still a lot of bad things going on in the world. 

We Selectively Remember The Past

Studies have shown that we tend to remember emotionally laden events more than neutral ones. For a few moments, search your memories of your past month, year, decade, and longer. What are your earliest memories in your life? Did you mostly remember the emotional highlights and lowlights? 

Studies also show that we remember negative events more accurately than positive events. It makes evolutionary sense that our personal survival depends on both noticing and accurately remembering things and events that might threaten us. Although this may have been more important to our ancestors’ survival thousands of years ago, the more primitive parts of our brain have likely not changed much during the past ten to twenty thousand years (or more). 

For instance, the members of foraging societies keenly noticed and remembered the details of dangerous snakes and poisonous plants, while gathering food. Today, most of go us to the grocery store and buy whatever we want, with little concern that our purchases are going to kill us. However, when we do encounter a dangerous or hurtful experience, we sharply remember the details. These memories direct our future behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Most kids will touch a stove’s glowing heating element only once. 

The News Media Selectively Report Events

We all know that in order to sell, the news must be sensational. And sensationally bad sells better than sensationally good.

Although we don’t agree that the majority mainstream news outlets should be charged with spreading fake news, we do think that almost all news poorly represents the real world. Although there are many factors at work here, the strongest factor is that the news outlets give us want we want, what we will consume, and what we will buy. And we want the sensational—often the sensationally bad. 

As we have been learning about internet publishing, we have been occasionally advised to write what we are passionate about. But mostly we were told write for the market—to find out what people want to read and then write about that. 

The immediacy, pervasiveness, and vividness of news in the information age also gives us an exaggerated feeling of the world’s catastrophes and violence. As the first televised war, the coverage of the Vietnam War brought the horror of war into living rooms everywhere. Although opinions concerning US news’ Vietnam coverage vary, there is little doubt that television greatly influenced the US involvement and eventual withdrawal. 

But as they say, you haven’t seen nothin yet. Soon we will be able to strap on our virtual reality units to see, hear, and feel the most terrifying moments of human experience. This experience will likely be combined with a game where we can eventually save the world with our heroic efforts, after dying a few thousand times. 

Putting One and Two Together

Let us combine the above two factors, our selective noticing and remembering and the news media’s selective reporting of events. How do these two factors work together to give most of us a feeling that the world is getting worse? First, a sample of factual news:

  • April 30, 2019: Two people fatally shot in a classroom at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. 
  • April 21, 2019: Easter Sunday: Over 290 killed in Sri Lanka by explosions at hotels, churches, and a housing complex. Another bomb planted at an airport did not explode. 
  • March-April 2019: At least 62 deaths during two weeks of flooding in Iran.
  • March 15, 2019: Fifty shot to death at two New Zealand mosques. 
  • March 10, 2019: Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 crashes, killing all 157 aboard.
  • February 5, 2019: Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in parking lot.
  • September 20, 2018: Three workplace shootings in three different states during the past 24 hours.
  • February 14, 2018: At least 17 killed in Florida high school shooting.
  • October 1, 2017: 58 killed and 422 injured by gunfire at an outdoor Las Vegas music festival. 

If you pay much attention to the news, you will learn you can die almost anywhere, at any time, and by countless means. You are not 100 percent safe anywhere. The combination of our own selective attention and the bombardment of violence and death from the news media has seeped into our ongoing thoughts, feelings, and sense of well-being (or not-so-well-being). Increasingly individuals are making and broadcasting videos, many of which contain violence or catastrophes. The March 15, 2019, shootings in New Zealand were recorded from the gunman’s helmet-mounted camera and broadcast on the internet via Facebook. 

Is it Heartless and Unproductive to Spread the Good News When Many People Still Needlessly Die and There is Much Corruption in the World?

Even after reading that the world is factually getting better in many aspects, you may feel still uncomfortable or outright deny this view. In explaining this fairly common experience, we will briefly quote Rosling, since he says it well.

If you still feel uncomfortable agreeing that the world is getting better, even after I have shown you all this beautiful data, my guess is that it’s because you know that huge problems still remain. My guess is you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that everything is fine, or that you should look away from these problems and pretend they don’t exist: and that feels ridiculous, and stressful. (Rosling, Hans. Factfulness. p. 68. Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.)

Saying something has improved doesn’t necessarily mean it is now great. If a patient improves with a specific treatment but is still not completely cured, we don’t say that he is worse off than before. And to say that he is doing better than before doesn’t imply he is completely fine now and we can now dismiss him. He may still need a lot of help. 

The same can be said for the state of the world. To realize and say that the world is improving in many ways isn’t to ignore its current problems. 

Remember the saying, “He who doesn’t remember history is doomed to repeat it”? Acknowledging how the world is getting better and the factors that have led to this improvement is a first step in its continued advancement. 

Accepting on both an intellectual and feeling level that the world is getting better can also create a spirit of hopefulness and that our efforts are not futile. 

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Activists often selectively present the most dismal view related to their cause. They likely believe that you have to get people really mad or fearful before they will act. However, in the long run, their selective and exaggerated reporting can leave them and their causes less credible in the eyes of others. 

Rosling tells us the story that he was asked by Al Gore to help him graphically show the worst-case scenario of the results of increased CO2 emissions. Reportedly Mr. Gore justified this request by saying that they needed to create fear. Rosling told Gore that he would not do this without also showing the best-case and most probable scenarios. The two could not agree and Rosling eventually refused Gore’s request. 

We should add that later in the book Rosling lists climate change as one of the five world problems that he is most concerned about. Although we could not find that he said this directly, we think Rosling would agree that our most important concerns have the highest need of being presented in balanced and factual ways. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

You might rationally accept that, by many measures, the world is getting better for most people. However, it still might not feel that way to you. For instance, you can be told and intellectually accept that you have 1/15 the chance of dying a violent death than your ancestors did five or six centuries ago. However, this may not change your feeling that the world is getting more dangerous

In our next post, we will explore this issue further and suggest some steps you can take to get your feeling and rational selves more cooperative and aligned with each other.

We also invite you to read Hans Rosling’s book Factufulness or check out his work on the internet. We recommend a TED Talk by Hans and his son you can find by clicking here.

HOW ARE THINGS GOING IN YOUR WORLD?

We are not referring to how things are going in your own life, your family, community, or even your nation. Let’s think on a worldwide scale.

The rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer. The percentage of the world’s population living in severe poverty has almost doubled in the past twenty years. Less than half of the world’s population have access to electricity.

The world is increasingly unable to keep up with soaring birth rates. For instance, there are about 2 billion children (through age 15) today. The United Nations predicts this number will nearly double by the turn of the next century. Although almost all children in the United States have received at least one vaccination, fewer than one-quarter of the world’s children have had this benefit. Indeed, the number of children dying from easily preventable diseases continues to rise. 

Worldwide, the gender gap is not narrowing. For instance, across the world, adult men have had an average of ten years of formal education. For women, it is half that number—about five years. 

War, violence, and natural and man-made disasters continue to rise. Because of the increasing availability of deadly weapons, your chance of dying from violence has nearly quadrupled in the past 500 years. Your chance of dying from natural disasters (many of which humans bear some responsibility) has doubled in the past one hundred years. 

And don’t even get us started on corruption at all levels in business and government. 

To sum it up, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Although we don’t think it can all fit into a handbasket, it is clear that by almost all measures, the state of the world is declining. Things are getting worse.    

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These facts are, at the least, unsettling to many of us. For some, they are downright horrifying. But for others, they are comforting signs that Armageddon is gearing up and soon to arrive. Some believe the Rapture will swoop them up and out of here before it all goes to …

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Given the above facts, the world is a scary place and getting scarier. 

 

Countryside Train. Pic by Senuscape From PEXELS
Countryside Train. Pic by Senuscape From PEXELS

Except, almost all of the above “facts” are not true.

In fact, the world situation is almost opposite to that described above. The countryside train pictured above much more accurately depicts the current state of the world than the train wreck pictured at the beginning of this post. At the least, one could say that while not perfect, the world is on the right track.

Point by point: 

  • The percentage of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half during the last twenty years. The total number of persons in poverty has also significantly decreased since the world’s population has grown by just over 25 percent during that time period. 
  • About 80 percent of the world’s population has at least some access to electricity. 
  • World-Wide fertility rates (average number of children women have in their lifetime) have declined by about half since 1950. It was 4.7 in 1950 and 2.4 in 2017. 
  • The UN actually predicted the total world population would be about 11 billion in 2100 and would then level off. Most of the increase in population would be adults (15 to 74-year-old). However, an increasing number of experts say the total world population will begin to level off at 9 billion sometime between 2040 and 2070.
  • According to the World Health Organization, in 2017, 85 percent of the infants worldwide received the recommended doses of vaccines that prevent measles, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and hepatitis B.
  • The women of the world average about 9 years of formal education, compared to 10 years for men. 
  • According to Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, your lifetime chance of dying by violence is 1/15 of the chance your medieval ancestors had. 
  • Deaths from disasters have gone from 454 per million in the 1930s to 10 per million today. 

Did we suck you in during the first part of this post?

Or were you skeptical about at least some of those claims? If you found yourself going along with those “facts” presented at the beginning of this post, you are not alone. 

During 2017, Hans Rosling and his team gave a multiple-choice test of 13 questions to about 12,000 people in 14 countries. For each question, people were given three answers to choose from. Most of the false facts stated above were based on those questions. The average number they got right was two out of the first 12 questions.

By pure chance, they should have gotten an average of four correct. But these 12,000 people, on average, managed to get half as many correct, than if they had randomly the guessed answers.

What is going on? We promise to dive into some possible answers on our next post.

Resources:

BBC News. “ ‘Remarkable’ Decline in Fertility Rates” November 9, 2018. Accessed April 4 2019 @ https://www.bbc.com/news/health-46118103.

Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapines: A Brief History of Humankind. Harvil Secker, a division of Random House Group, Ltd., 2015. 

Rosling, Hans. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World—And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Flatiron Books, 2018. 

WBUR. “The Road To 10 Billion: Where Is The Global Population Actually Headed”. Accessed April 4, 2019 @ https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2019/02/21/empty-planet-global-population-decline-growth-john-ibbitson-darrell-bricker.

World Health Organization. “Immunization Coverage”. January 2018. Accessed April 4, 2019 @ https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/immunization-coverage.