World get­ting bet­ter, even if it’s hard to tell

The think­ing of Dr. Hans Rosling is a tonic for this book group, even if there are doubters

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - Rose­mary Gan­ley Reach writer, activist and teacher Rose­mary Gan­ley at [email protected]

These are dreary times. Not just be­cause it’s Novem­ber and we tighten our shoul­ders against cold winds, but be­cause the global news is wor­ri­some.

Almost ev­ery­where, cli­mate dis­as­ters and suf­fer­ing, hu­man greed and stu­pid­ity. Peo­ple gen­er­ally are un­happy.

I chuck­led when I saw the T-shirt of my hair­dresser last week: “I am Happy, and It Drives Ev­ery­one Crazy!”

I re­mind my­self that peo­ple in other his­toric times en­dured great grief and loss. The study of hu­man his­tory is al­ways in­struc­tive. So is an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into an­ti­dotes to glum­ness, such as po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism and spir­i­tu­al­ity. Mind­ful­ness, grat­i­tude, a sense of the sa­cred, can be in­creased and deep­ened. It is cru­cial today.

Twenty-five years ago, a Ger­man Je­suit priest named Karl Rah­ner wrote: “In the world to come, we will be mys­tics, or we will not be.”

Also of help is a brac­ing dose of Dr. Hans Rosling, of Swe­den, who served 20 years as a physi­cian in ru­ral Mozam­bique and then com­mit­ted his en­er­getic self to en­light­en­ing the world with facts.

His the­sis is that the world is get­ting bet­ter but no one will ad­mit it.

Rosling draws his facts from United Na­tions statis­tics. That body is as­sid­u­ous about col­lect­ing facts, and a good thing, too.

His son, Ola and his daugh­ter-in law, Anna, help him get the mes­sage out. They are tech­ni­cally hip, and have de­signed a “Bub­ble” tech­nique to go with his TED Talks, pre­served now on YouTube and well worth a look. Rosling is ded­i­cated to “help­ing peo­ple carry only opin­ions for which there are strong sup­port­ing facts.” He says, “I fight against dev­as­tat­ing ig­no­rance.”

Mis­con­cep­tions abound, he finds. Play­fully, he asks ev­ery reader to take a 13-ques­tion quiz about the state of the world. For ex­am­ple, what per­cent­age of the world’s girls fin­ish ele­men­tary school: 20 per cent, 40 per cent or 60 per cent? The an­swer is 60 per cent, but fewer than three in 10 peo­ple get it right.

Rosling is a fan of the abil­ity to keep two facts in one’s head at a time. Things can be bad, but still get­ting bet­ter. He takes as his ref­er­ence point the year 1800, and he uses as a frame­work “Four Lev­els” at which the world’s pop­u­la­tion lives.

At Level 1, peo­ple live on less than $2 a day (ex­treme poverty) and to­tal one bil­lion peo­ple. At Level 2, three bil­lion peo­ple live on $8 a day. At Level 3, two bil­lion live on $32 a day, and at Level 4, one bil­lion live at $64 and up.

“Peo­ple such as you and me must strug­gle hard to grasp the re­al­ity of the six bil­lion peo­ple with much less than us,” Rosling says.

In 1800, 85 per cent of peo­ple lived at Level 1. Now it is 12 per cent.

“We can now drop the term ‘de­vel­oped’ and ‘de­vel­op­ing’ and use the Four Lev­els more ac­cu­rately.”

We skew our views to­ward neg­a­tiv­ity be­cause “there is more sur­veil­lance of suf­fer­ing,” than ever be­fore, and there is “se­lec­tive re­port­ing.”

Also, we have 10 habits of mind that need to be chal­lenged. These, Rosling calls “in­stincts:” The gap, neg­a­tiv­ity, straight-line think­ing, fear, a mis­un­der­stand­ing of size, gen­er­al­iza­tions, blame, ur­gency, a sin­gle per­spec­tive and destiny. To il­lus­trate gen­er­ally, he re­minds us there are 54 coun­tries in Africa, a bil­lion peo­ple all with dif­fer­ences.

Rosling’s 2018 book, com­pleted just be­fore his death from the can­cer he had lived with for 40 years, en­ti­tled “Fact­ful­ness,” is our book group’s sec­ond study. One of our mem­bers brought a refu­ta­tion of Rosling’s “op­ti­mism” (though he calls him­self a “pos­si­bilist”), with an es­say from www re­ It ar­gues he does not pay suf­fi­cient heed to cli­mate change. It is go­ing to be a case of hold­ing two dif­fer­ent ideas in one’s head, I think.


Dr. Hans Rosling, known for his an­i­mated lec­tures, uses rolls of toi­let pa­per to il­lus­trate world pop­u­la­tion growth for a stand­ing-room-only au­di­ence.

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