The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take Joy!
—Fra Giovanni (Verona, 1435)
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Even though Advent is a season for standing in solidarity with all who suffer, it doesn’t exclude joy. The third candle stands for Joy.
Yes, the world is gloomy. But there’s more to the world than gloom. There’s much to celebrate.
The world is doing better than it has for a long time. But it’s hard to believe that if your view of the world is shaped by the media, for whom bad news is good news. Feasting on headlines can make you sick and despondent. Many crusaders exaggerate dangers to raise funds for their causes. It’s easy to believe we’re on the eve of destruction.
I read the news. But I also read books: Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress and Hans Rosling’s Factfulness.
Both books are full of statistics, data, and charts. Both celebrate positive global trends. And both warn of dark trends (demise of liberal democracies; environmental destruction).
Here’s what’s happened over the past 200 years.
Life expectancy has increased from 35 to 70 years on average.
Far fewer babies die at childbirth. Prenatal care has improved and not just in rich countries.
Far fewer children die before age five. Clean water and better nutrition are more readily available.
Far fewer girls are denied schooling. Not long ago 80 percent had no primary schooling. Now 80 percent do.
Literacy rates have soared worldwide.
Far fewer people live in destitute poverty. Electricity, refrigeration, and family planning have spread.
Far fewer die of measles, malaria, smallpox, polio, or guinea worm disease. Access to clinics, hospitals, and vaccines has increased.
Far fewer famines occur. Crop yields per acre have multiplied.
Far fewer houses burn down. Building codes and materials have improved.
Far fewer die from auto accidents. Cars and highways are safer.
Far fewer wars have broken out, partly because international trade agreements have increased. Nations seldom make war on a trading partner.
Far fewer nuclear warheads are stockpiled.
Fewer nations see coal and oil in their future. More are turning to solar, wind, and hydroelectric power whose costs are decreasing.
No, it’s not all rosy. Many problems still plague us. There’s much work to be done.
Still, we can sing “Joy to the World,” light a candle, and feel hopeful.
See Paula’s photo on the home page. Posted December 5.