Improving How We See The World

Today I’ll share some advice from Hans Rosling’s wonderful book Factfulness. This advocates that the world is getting better, and despite the challenges we need to understand this to see what is working and do more of it. Rosling shows a positive view from the data but how can we get to the positive view when negative news is what hits the headlines? Rosling has some great advice. Here is a collection of useful ideas.

He suggests we need to compare them to make sense of any number. “The most important thing you can do to avoid misjudging something’s importance is to avoid lonely numbers… If you are offered one number, always ask for at least one more. Something to compare it with”. (Rosling, 2018, page 130). This is excellent advice. As any bad thing is too much any number of a bad thing is likely to seem alarming on its own. When compared to another number we can get some context. We can see how big the number really is; perhaps we can compare it to a population. We can also hope to get an understanding of whether it is getting better or worse. If it is getting better than isn’t a reason for complacency but it is a positive result. Can we do more of whatever is making things better?

Usefully he gives a checklist. This includes, “We should be teaching our children that there are countries on all different levels of health and income, and that most are in the middle” (Rosling, 2018, page 248). This should get people in the richest parts of the world away from the idea that the world is divided between their countries and the rest. There is a very big difference between countries that aren’t as rich as the US but still have a good quality of life and very challenging countries.

We need to teach that all countries have moved up from poverty and there is no reason why currently poor countries can’t do so also. Don’t despair, something can be done. Looking at what worked in the past is a pretty good place to start.

The final piece of advice is to update your knowledge of the world. If you have been out of school things have changed a lot since you last read geography books. As Rosling would emphasize often these changes are for the better. It is worth recognizing this, if only to ensure that we don’t get too despondent and keep doing what is working well.

Read: Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund (2018) Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — And Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Flatiron books.