Life’s not all that bad – ask Hans Rosling

I’ve had a tough week, I’ll be honest. One of my grandads passed away (yes, I’m lucky at my age to have any grandparents, and no, I’m not saying how old I am), I was very close to him growing up, and it’s hit me hard. As well as feeling sad, it’s also made me reflective. A friend this week has encouraged me to actively recall memories of lovely times with him (a great idea by the way), which has made me grateful to have had my Grandad in my life. musings

He taught me my love of dance (my family will probably never forgive for him for that one!), and encouraged my love of music (not the actual music taste, I couldn’t blame him for that!), and whenever he and my Nanna were over and it was my bedtime, he would sit at the end of the my bed and patiently listen to my ramblings from the day, and I’d listen to his.

One of my reflections this week was how, in a time when you’re experiencing negativity or sadness, it’s so important to still look for the good things – to see the whole picture. Looking back at these lovely experiences I was lucky to have had, made me smile, and made it easier to deal with the other emotions. I focussed on how glad I am that he was there in the first place, more than how I was sad that he had passed.

This was further reinforced by another passing, not someone I knew personally, but someone I’d seen on a Ted talk; Hans Rosling. While I was visiting my parents this week, my mum mentioned the obituary she’d seen and how she’d wished she’d known about him while he was alive. I had seen the Ted talk that he did in 2006, and always loved the message – that life is really not as bad as we all try to make out, and that tempting, preconceived ideas create false perceptions.

Hans Rosling was a statistician who was passionate about educating people about how the world is actually the best it’s been, ever. Using statistics to do this, he argued, meant that this was not a matter of opinion, but one of fact, and therefore immutable. That’s why I admired him, because in the face of the overwhelming peddling of doom and gloom (and let’s face it, 2016 didn’t help), he could demonstrate that the world is great place and it’s worth enjoying the fact that life is getting better.

He especially enjoyed challenging established and common preconceptions, and in that vein it’s worth knowing that global population growth is slowing rapidly, the divide between rich and poor is blurring, life expectancy is rising (everywhere), more young women than ever receive education and the number of people in extreme poverty has reduced by more than a billion since the early nineties. Not only is life not as bad as people (well, OK, mostly the Daily Mail) make out, but it’s actually in the opposite situation to what most of us perceive. That’s not to say there aren’t problems, but let’s look at the world as it is, as opposed to thinking up dramatic headlines.

This should be reassuring, as the actions of both individuals and groups of people are proving effective in reversing some of the difficult situations in the world. When you’re at grass roots level, such as attending a small protest or working with small groups to change attitudes, the statistics show that it’s working on a larger scale. For example, in one middle eastern country, focusing on education and investing in healthcare has seen life expectancy, and their economy, grow significantly even while oil prices are falling.

Hans Rosling founded the Gapminder Foundation, which uses software to present statistics in visually exciting ways to make it more appealing and shareable, in order to spread the understanding of statistics that challenge preconceptions of how the world is. I urge you check it out. It’s fascinating how he breaks out the data to show how similarities at the macro level (for example: Africa) can be broken down at the micro level (i.e. Sierra Leone compared to Mauritus) to demonstrate real differences, changes and improvements (for example the Sierra Leone Civil War, compared to the Mauritius removal of trade barriers to export).

If you analyse at the micro level you can develop more relevant micro strategies for economic and healthcare improvement. Both of these companies are in sub-saharan Africa but in very different places when you look at child mortality and economic status. Creating dramatic headlines that collectively lump the macro together, and ignoring micro trends peddles ignorance and ineffective development programmes. I’m in danger of wandering off topic here, but we’ve got all the data, we just need to leverage it.

The link between what Hans Rosling was passionate about, and my own week? Look for those facts worth loving, even when it seems hopeless and dark, because loving those things, however small, makes it easier to bear. Look at all the facts, not just the sad ones, to gain a true perspective. This works as well for day to day life as well as world economies!

I always think Oscar Wilde says it well (as he so often does); “It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it.”




About the Author

Charlotte Graham-Cumming

Director, Ice Blue Sky Ltd

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