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On The Bricks Archives

December 28, 2017

The end of 2017 is near and it could be known for many things.

I read an article in the Rotarian magazine about the year 2016 and what it is known for. The article had an interesting title and some good points to ponder. I’m going to share some of these points from the article “Could be Worse: When the Story Seems Grim, Rewrite the Ending.”

The author, Frank Bures, says, “The idea that 2016 was the worst year ever started circulating after several celebrity deaths (Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen) were followed by an election that did not go the way many people wanted it to. After that, the worst – year – ever meme became unstoppable, and in 2017, the drumbeat of decline has not stopped.

“Offhand, I can think of a lot of things that are worse than a cold winter day: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 1929 stock market crash, the Bataan Death March. But it’s true that things do feel worse than they actually are. Part of the reason lies in the 24 – hour news cycle and it’s never – ending flow of bad news.

“As writer Jia Tolentino put it in The New Yorker, ‘There is no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the Internet, and there’s no easy way to properly calibrate it. …Our ability to change things is not increasing at the same rate as our ability to know about them.’

“Contrary to what you might think, violence is at all – time lows, as is the rate of global poverty. War deaths are fewer than ever in history. On most indicators where you might think progress is not being made, the opposite is probably true.

“Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in a column in The New York Times: ‘2017 is likely to be the best year in the history of humanity.’ He continued, ‘Every day, another 250,000 people graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures about 300,000 get electricity for the first time. Some 285,000 get their first access to clean drinking water. When I was a boy, a majority of adults had always been illiterate, but now more than 85% can read.’

“Likewise, Steven Pinker said stated in his book that the world is not more violent, more racist, more genocidal, or more unjust than in the past. He documented long – term declines in homicides, as well as massive gains in education, health, and wealth. He showed that diseases are not spiraling out of control. None who which is to say that things are perfect or that our progress is permanent. But the world is far more perfect than it used to be.

“Yet many of us have given in to a pessimism, a hopelessness, a sense that things are going from bad to worse. Minnesota winters notwithstanding, it was shocking how many people rushed to declare 2016 the worst year ever, when in fact it was one of the best.\

“This disconnect between perception and reality was noted by sociologist Barry Glassner …. He explored the growing distance between the things we fear and the reality of those threats. Throughout the 1990s, people became more afraid of crime, even as crime rates were falling. Other threats, such as road rage and child abduction, proved wildly overblown, while others – the satanic cult scare and Y2K, for instance – turned out to the entirely fictional.

“…The stories we tell ourselves matter, and what we see around us often says more about our inner world than our outer one. All lives have positive and negative things that happen in them. But it’s about how you take time and draw connections.

“Stories are contagious, and negative stories even more so. But it matters for other reasons too. One reason is that a negative outlook doesn’t let us acknowledge the accomplishments of those who are doing good work: people fighting to eliminate polio, or end child marriages, or combat global warming, or conserve our water, or educate our children.

“But the most important reason is the simple fact that no problem has ever been solved by people who didn’t think it was possible to solve it. When we let the negative memes take over – when we consume them over and over online – they create a cage of despair from which we can’t see an escape.

“Look around you and write a new story that reflects the world as you want it to be.”

See you on the bricks … and be sure to tell me about your new story.