Yes. According to an article in the respected Foreign Policy magazine “the noughties” has been humankind’s best ever decade. Charles Kenny’s article opens with a sample of the many familiar reasons why that statement might seem counterintuitive, but the article continues:
“Given that our brains seem hard-wired to remember singular tragedy over incremental success, it’s a hard sell to convince anyone that the past 10 years are worthy of praise. But these horrific events, though mortal and economic catastrophes for many millions, don’t sum up the decade as experienced by most of the planet’s 6-billion-plus people. For all its problems, the first 10 years of the 21st century were in fact humanity’s finest, a time when more people lived better, longer, more peaceful, and more prosperous lives than ever before…”
The article then goes into some of the details of that “incremental success”.
Of course, if you or your loved ones were actually in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami or if your family has been hit hard by the more recent financial meltdown you might understandably beg to differ. But what about the majority of us, who have viewed the globally tragic as passive observers through a media lens? Surely it is – or should be – of note that all the while incremental change for the better has been happening that deserves to be noticed and appreciated.
Even when all sorts of good is going on it is easier – and, of course, many times it is the right thing to do! – to report the more photogenic/videogenic problems out there. Occasionally it is even the good news that is videogenic, as in the uplifting case of the Chilean miners rescue. But it’s noteworthy that the Foreign Policy writer is basing his view on longterm empirical data. Surely this has just as much right to be drawn to our attention as that which is more fleeting and graphically compelling.
There are, of course, diligent and creative people in media who do care about sifting through the weeds of what is distressing to the wheat of the encouraging news that is intermingled with them, and who do report it. An example of such reporting is author and journalist David Bornstein who recently featured alongside City Year co-founder Alan Khazei and Universal Giving founder Pamela Hawley in discussing New Visions in Social Change at the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity. There is a great 5 minute commentary by David on the media and its perspective at 20 minutes and 45 seconds into the discussion. Please view this, if you can find the time!
Indeed the newspaper run from the same building in which this event on social entrepreneurship took place, The Christian Science Monitor, – which has had a bumper decade in terms of growth in readership – is a classic example of a news organisation that identifies green shoots of promise while not shying away from reporting on the trouble spots. A recent example is an Opinion piece by a US lieutenant colonel called Don’t believe everything you hear about Iraq. There is progress. See also the Monitor’s heartwarming series on People Making a Difference. It can be done!
Ignoring the bad news is not a healthy option, and not to be recommended. But our perspective matters, and the media play a vital role in shaping that perspective for better or for worse. So as we hit the new decade (the teenies, perhaps?!) this is a helpful reminder for readers/listeners/viewers to demand the full story of our media. This is not a call for trite good news…so much that is good is going on all around, day in day out, and doesn’t need to be reported. But where there is genuine evidence of significant things going well, let’s hear more about it, please, so that in intellectual discussions – and in childlike prayer! – the thinker can bring a more balanced perspective to his or her desire to be of help to humanity and have a clearer idea of the direction in which the ship of planet earth is actually being steered!
Here is a classic song on the need to be open to a fresh perspective, from the Walt Disney team: