The reptilian part of our human brains sometimes seems hardwired to focus on the negative. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary quirk passed along from our forebears as a means of helping us survive a somewhat undesirable and frightening world. Or, perhaps we can only attribute it to the fault in our stars. In any event, from time to time, we encounter facts that seem to contradict the obsessive, pessimistic thoughts of our inner Eeyore.
Nicholas Kristof’s recent piece in the New York Times, “Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History,” is just an example. After all, this is the second year running in which the popular columnist cited the previous year as the best ever for humanity. How do we process this information, given that everything we’ve been exposed to in the past year has focused on the accelerating degradation of our global environment, our dysfunctional political system and even our impending doom as a nation, and perhaps a world?
As an educator, I was intrigued by the title, and the accompanying photograph of young Syrian refugee children carefully examining a globe.
The contention of Kristof’s article is that by any objective measure, humanity progressed in many important ways last year. Fewer people were hungry, living in poverty or illiterate than ever before. Diseases that historically disfigured, blinded us or worse, are in decline. Clean drinking water is becoming more accessible, etc., etc. etc.
So why, after all these important advances, don’t we feel more optimistic? Perhaps because we instinctually understand that the truth is far more complex than the statistics cited. It lies somewhere in between “everything’s coming up roses” and “we’re destined for the dustbin of history.”
Perhaps it’s time to stop, take a breath, count our personal and collective accomplishments and roll up our sleeves; remembering that each of us is not a passive bystander in our destiny. We, as full-fledged members of the human race, must be in it together.
Read Kirstof’s article, and share your own thoughts about where you see humanity headed.
(c) Tyra Manning 2018