by Arnold Machel CFP
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
- Phil 4:8 (NIV)
Lately I’ve found myself disturbed by the pessimism I hear around me. It seems to be Christians and non-Christians alike in this regard.
Yes – there’s lots of bad news, but let’s put it in perspective. Overall, the world is a much better place than it was. And it is getting better.
I once heard a wise person say that optimism was the only long-term reality – and if we really believe the Bible, then we truly can believe nothing else – but even in the shorter term, I believe that there is much to be optimistic about.
Of course, it’s not always getting better in all ways. Periodically we face setbacks, but in general the world is slowly becoming better, not worse. And we will all be healthier emotionally (and probably physically, too), if we acknowledge that, so to help put things in perspective, here are just a few ways that things are getting better.
Life Expectancy around the world was around 30 until the early 1900’s. Since then it has steadily (and rapidly) risen. Average life expectancy was 71.7 globally in 2015 (even higher in developed nations) and appears to be continuing to rise.
Child Mortality Rates have plummeted to almost 0% in rich countries, but even in poorer nations they have dropped drastically. India for example had a child mortality rate of 33.3% in 1911 and at last count was down to 4.3%.
GDP per Capita just keeps growing, meaning we just keep earning more. On average in the western world it’s grown at an average of 2% (above inflation) for the past 150 years. Yes, there are blips (the Great Depression, COVID) that cause temporary GDP declines, but the trend is consistently upward and there is no reason to believe that will change.
Income Inequality is a weird one where we’re doing better globally, but worse nationally. On the positive side, on a global basis, countries like China and India are growing at a tremendous pace and have done so for the past few decades, bringing their incomes much higher than before. For the first time since the industrial revolution, roughly half the world today would be considered middle class. On the negative side, within nations we are seeing income inequality rise with middle class incomes having faced downward pressure for some time now.
Democracy is the worst of systems… except for the alternatives. Winston Churchill said that. Since the beginning of recorded history, oppressive (undemocratic) regimes have been the norm for the vast majority of people for the vast majority of the time. Over the past 200 years, democratic rule has slowly become the norm. In 1994, for the first time in history, more than half the population on the planet lived in a democracy.
Peace Abounds. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it because the world is so much smaller, so we hear about all of the negative things, but we live in a more stable world than ever before. Since about 1500, at least two of the world’s largest powers have been at war at least 50% of the time, yet most of us alive today have had no experience of world wars. Western Europe has had no war or major conflict in three generations.
None of this stuff makes a great headline. It doesn’t compel readers to read more or viewers to turn up the volume, so it doesn’t tend to make the front page. But it is happening.
I get it. I am not wearing rose coloured glasses. Certainly, COVID is not a welcome addition to our lives. As a Canadian, it feels like we’ve had a mean, new neighbour move in next door and change what was once a very cordial and friendly relationship into one full of pettiness, division and bickering. And every time we turn on the news it is full of racial strife, attacks, murders and countless other tragedies. And social media has made lies easy to spread as well as created a shallowness to relationships that never existed before.
Let’s put the bad news in perspective. Yes – bad stuff happens. Yes – not all things are good. But overall better things are happening and continue to happen. The next time you find yourself focussing on the negatives, remind yourself of all the good things happening. Let go of the fretting and embrace His love, knowing that optimism is truly the only long-term reality.
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