Long tendrils of black smoke curled up into the sky. All around lay charred bodies and burned buildings. Dresden 1945? No, just the six o’clock news. We are bombarded on all sides with images and messages of doom, destruction and death.
The world is heating up causing firestorms of ever greater ferocity. Global warming will produce more violent hurricanes (See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/08/0804_050804_hurricanewarming.html). (Apparently it will also decrease the temperature gradient between the poles and the equator because the poles will heat up proportionately more. This will mean less wind, a failure of wind turbines and less intense wind related storms? (See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101109095314.htm). I’m not sure how you can have both, but never let logic get in the way of hysteria). Avian influenza will jump from birds to humans wiping us all out. Extremists will turn the infidel lands into radioactive wastelands. Depending on which gloom merchant you read anywhere from 20 to 200 species go extinct every day. The world population has already grown by nearly 12 million people this year (See http://www.worldometers.info/world-population), and we topped seven billion in October last year.
I’ve heard it all before. You’ve heard it all before. What we’re not hearing is the fact that we are also living in the best of times, because good news doesn’t sell. Last year the second major disease, after small pox, was eradicated from the planet. Rinderpest, a serious disease of cattle, has become extinct, and polio seems likely to follow. Deaths from malaria, one of our biggest killers, are down. We are living longer than any of our ancestors. According to Harvard University social scientist Steven Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” (http://stevenpinker.com/publications/better-angels-our-nature) we are less likely to die violently now than at any time in our history. According to his statistics the murder rate of 14th century Oxford was 110 per 100,000 people. The murder rate for mid-20th century London was one death per 100,000 people. In prehistory approximately 15% of people died in wars, compared with 0.7% of the population in the 20th century. If we add disease, famine and genocide to that we can get it all the way up to 3%. Still, that’s little consolation for the 180 million people who contributed to that statistic.
Nevertheless, contrary to what our friends in the media would have us believe, violence is decreasing, partly because of the formation of nation states with their state sanctioned punishments, shifts in attitude resulting in people thinking less selfishly and the simple fact that violence and war are bad for business. Why hammer someone into submission by force when you can pillage them financially and make a huge profit as well?
Cynicism aside, however, for most of the people reading this life is pretty reasonable but we appear to be hard wired to focus only on the negative, conveniently blanking out the positive. We need to change that attitude. Recently I viewed a TED talk by Shawn Achor on this very topic. If you’re not aware of TED it stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, can be found at http://www.ted.com and is well worth a visit as it contains a myriad of talks on a huge range of topics.
Shawn Achor’s (http://www.shawnachor.com) attempt to change the way we think focusses on meditation, exercise, writing down three things each day that we are grateful for, writing down one positive experience each day and performing one act of kindness each day. Do this for 21 days and your brain is retrained. Does this really work or is it just hype? Does it really matter? Best case scenario: if you’re a doctor you’ll be more intelligent and creative and make accurate diagnoses 19% faster, if you’re a salesperson you’ll outsell your pessimistic counterparts by 56%, and the rest of you will receive up to 25% higher job performance ratings than your unhappy colleagues and you’ll be more productive, perform better, earn more money, take fewer sick days and be less likely to burn out (according to Shawn Achor’s statistics). Worst case scenario? You’ll be no worse off than you are now.
So you may as well give it a go and, as the very much alive Bobby McFerrin (not that Guy Sebastian rip off merchant) said, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Dr. F. Bunny
“Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the “ordinary” efforts of a vast majority.” (Stephen Jay Gould -palaeontologist, evolutionary biologist and science writer)