So, a few months ago I was reading Melinda Gates's new book, The Moment of Lift. Excellent book, by the way (even though it's not the focus of this post). I loved getting to read about the amazing work the Gates Foundation is doing to promote the development and empowering of women around the world. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of difficulties that women face, and people/organizations around the world working to ensure that each woman is seen as a life that is valuable; in fact, a life that has equal value to those around her. Apparently, when the Gateses were forming their organization, they leaned heavily on the advice and wisdom of a man named Hans Rosling, a medical doctor and professor of international health. He too had written a book....so off I went to check it out.
Hans Rosling was a Swedish doctor who spent years working in Mozambique and the Congo. He then moved into more public health roles and investigated a number of disease outbreaks (including the 2014 West Africa ebola epidemic). He passed away in 2017, and the book Factfulness was his last work. Dr. Rosling's premise is basically that the world is a much better place than we think it is.
He uses a number of actual statistics from the world--infant mortality, life expectancy, kids attending school, average household income, even number of endangered species--to demonstrate that while most people interviewed will guess that things are getting worse, statistics show the opposite: that things have actually been improving over the past several generations. Not only does he use statistics to demonstrate this, but the book is divided into 10 chapters of WHY he thinks we view the world the way we do.
As an American, coming from one of the most affluent countries in the world, who has now moved to Burundi, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, reading the book was actually surprisingly eye opening. I tend to think of the world as either the "American" camp or the "Burundian" camp, while in reality there are so many more middle countries than either extremely rich or extremely poor. You can't put Burundi in the same category as South Africa, or Egypt, or Thailand, or India. Life expectancy and income are much higher for the average citizen of one of those countries than Burundi or Malawi, for example. Rosling demonstrates that many of us use an "us and them" mentality when we look at the world, instead of recognizing that there are many different levels of poverty and development, and that the difference between a salary of $1/day and $4/day can have exponential benefits for the individual and society.
One of the lines Rosling uses towards the end of the book is this: The world can be bad, but getting better at the same time. He's not asking us to pretend that everything everywhere is ok. It's clearly not, and there are many many problems to overcome and injustices to surmount. But, we can also celebrate the work and developments that have occurred over the last 100 years, even 10 years, as well. That knowledge can give us hope that our efforts and the efforts of so many are not in vain.
As an addendum, I'm including some of his data graphics below. The book is full of them, and it's a book that's fun and easy to read. You can also compare your knowledge of the world to various Nobel laureates, billionaires, scientists, and chimpanzees...and see how you stack up. ;)