It's only fair to share…

Over the last month or so we have seen tragedies in the world. Connectivity brings them into our lives the instant they occur. Decades ago news of an event in Europe may take days to reach other parts of the world. Go back further and it was unlikely you would ever hear of events that were outside your immediate vicinity.

It is therefore easy to see the world as a scary place. Yet the reality is that there has never been a better time to live. People have never lived longer or enjoyed, collectively, better health. Over the last 35 years the percentage of the worlds population living in extreme poverty has fallen from 30% to under 10%. This is even more remarkable when you consider that the population increased by close to two billion in that same period.

Nobody wants to talk about good news. Woe betides a politician who suggests that times are good. Even in health, anyone who dares say that the systems we have are actually excellent by any historical standard will be howled down as being “out of touch”.

It has become the default position to complain about how badly off we are. It is almost a competition to see who can be the biggest victim. This is exacerbated by a victim industry, which encourages and profits from telling people they are victims of something or another.

Columnist on WA Today Richard Glover made the valid point that no one is prepared to state the truth, which is that life in Australia is not too bad. He wrote, “No one wants to mumble this sunny truth because it’s so much easier to pander to the pessimistic”.

He noted it was easier to “feel their pain” rather than risk being accused of not understanding or being out of touch.

This same concept applies to most western countries.

Like everyone, I grumble at times but when we take even half a step back, it is in fact the best time ever to have been alive, especially in western countries. For a moment, consider the lot of those who lived 200, 100 or even 50 years ago. Life expectancies were shorter. Living conditions were not as good. Poverty meant not having enough to eat and no roof over your head.

Yes there are people in this situation today but, as noted above, the numbers are far less than previously. Welfare payments are not a king’s ransom but do provide for the basics. Previous generations had to fend for themselves.

Yet pessimism sells. Historian Deidre McCloskey told the New York Times “For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell”. This is not a new phenomenon. John Stuart Mill wrote 150 years ago “I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage”.

We see this in health too with doom and gloom predictions even in the face of ever increasing life expectancies and better overall health. Pessimism can be seen as clever. The pessimist sees the problems ahead (real or imagined) thus seeming smarter than those oblivious to “danger”. Also pessimism calls for a change in course whereas optimism says keep on the current track – which can be seen as boring!

Life may not be perfect but for the vast majority of us it is better than that of our forebears. Sometimes we all need a reminder of this, myself included.