Drama and Instincts

I am an avid follower of current events and yet learning the following facts surprised me:

  • Armed conflict and casualties from war in our world have decreased 90% over the last 100 years on a continually declining arc
  • Violent crime in America is now about half what it was in 1993
  • World poverty is half what it was 20 years ago (1998)
  • There were 1 million annual deaths from natural disasters in 1930s; last year there were 72,000. Note: during the same time, the world population increased from 2 billion to 7 billion

So why did these facts surprise me, as they may now surprise you?

Bad news inevitably gets more media coverage, because it’s more interesting than good news.  And the competition to get our attention has increased many-fold, particularly as traditional then digital and social media have become more prominent.  As a journalism professor once told us: “news expands to fit the space available.”  And the space is now nearly infinite.

Will we read news tomorrow that 100,000 airplanes lifted off and landed safely today?  Of course not, but that’s at least how many accomplish that great feat every day.  On the other hand, most of us noticed the 14 accidents that occurred in 2017.  One of every 2, 607,143 flights got the news.

As a marketing guy, I am not inclined to suggest that media is “bad” for covering the 14 exceptional stories instead of the 36,499,986 flights in 2017 that landed safely.  It’s in the media’s best interest and our human nature that we find the exceptions more interesting, newsworthy.

The progress we’ve made on 34 major global issues forms the foundation of Hans Rosling’s book, titled, “Factfulness”.   Rosling and his co-author son and daughter-in-law provide charts with long term proven statistical conclusions about important newsy issues such as oil spills, natural disasters, ozone depletion, world hunger, immunization, gender equality and access to sanitation and improved water.

The Roslings’ thesis for the book is not that we should respond to news dramatization with contrived optimism, but with facts.  They say specifically that “the world is bad and getting better”.   The book urges us to identify how things are rather than how we perceive them – good and bad.

More importantly, they dedicate ten chapters to the human instincts that combine with media’s inclination for drama to create our unnecessarily skewed view of the world.  They believe that once we simply see things as they are, we can continue – and perhaps even accelerate – the virtuous cycle our world community is experiencing.

The primary author, the late Hans Rosling, was a world health expert, medical doctor and professor. He is also one of Time’s top 100 world influencers for his lifelong work in international research.  35 million views on the TED Network attest to his popularity.  The charting model his son and daughter-in-law  invented, called “GapMinder” www.gapminder.org has also gained deserved acclaim.

Unlike many of Gates’ recommended books, the Roslings provide an easy read.  In the first few pages the reader is asked to answer 13 questions about the world, which I scored poorly on along with most of the 30,000 international thought leaders to whom the same 13 questions were posed.  The rest of the book gives depth to why our perceptions are generally so wrong.

Their ultimate point is that our best decisions and actions are neither born of pessimism or optimism – they are best made based on facts.  It is certainly true for me that bad decisions are made when I’m focused on positive or negative emotions…my perceptual dramas.  It’s been a struggle for passionate Tim but I’ve had to learn (the hard way) to gather facts then apply them to the situation I’m facing, as dispassionately as possible.

Of 120 books featured as “book of the month” and the 1,000 or more I’ve probably read since starting this blog ten years ago, only a few have caused me to change how I think or view the world around me.

“Factfulness” is now added to that list.

For indeed, what are we here for if not to see things as they truly are, and change what we can and must?


Tim McCarthy

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