4 Reasons For Optimism In Today’s World
And why NOW is the time to do something awesome
Borrowed in parts from Fareed Zakaria’s 2012 Harvard Commencement Address
There is a lot of bad news out there. If you turn on the TV, the stories on the news describe grim economic times, a world at war, the breakdown of society, and a pending zombie apocalypse.
This type of news messes with our belief systems. More than anything it makes us afraid. Unless bomb shelters count, scared people don’t create much. They don’t create because they are pre-occupied with protecting what is closest to them. This is basic human nature.
On the contrary, people who do create are the ones filled with hope. They see the world for what it could be.
What many people don’t realize is that we live in a world with more opportunity, hope, and potential than ever before.
For some reason, we often allow the overwhelmingly good news to be fiercely overshadowed by a potent but small percentage of bad news.
(And why NOW is the time to do something awesome)
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4. Our World Is Profoundly At Peace
The world we live in is at peace — profoundly at peace. Author Steven Pinker says that we are living in the most peaceful times in human history. The richest countries of the world are not in militaristic geopolitical competition with one another. This is a historical rarity. You would have to go back hundreds of years to find a similar period of time.
With a 24-hour news cycle you can watch a bomb going off in Afghanistan or hear of a terror plot in Times Square and think we live in dangerous times. But here is the truth:
The number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war, and, yes, terrorism, is down 50% this decade from the 1990s. It is down 75% from the preceding five decades, the decades of the Cold War, and it is, of course, down 99% from the decade before that, which is World War II.
3. Economies Are Flourishing – Despite The Recent Downturn
I know, times have been tough. But think long term here. In 1980, the number of countries that were growing at 4% a year — robust growth — was around 60. By 2007, it had doubled. Even now, after the financial crisis, that number is more than 80.
Even in the current period of slow growth, the global economy as a whole will grow 10% to 20% faster this decade than it did a decade ago, and 60% faster than it did two decades ago. Seven of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa alone. This is nothing short of incredible.
2. The Remarkable Reduction in Global Poverty
The United Nations estimates that poverty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years. And much of that reduction has taken place in the last 20 years. Life expectancy across the world has risen dramatically. We gain five hours of life expectancy every day — without even exercising! A third of all the babies born in the developed world this year will live to be 100.
1. The Power of Education & the Role of Women
The number of global college graduates has risen fourfold in the last 40 years for men and sevenfold for women. The empowerment of women, whether in a village in Africa or a boardroom in America, is good for the world. We can look forward to a world enriched and ennobled by women’s voices.
So what does all this mean?
It means that more than ever, these are the times for you to make a significant difference in the world.
If you live in the global north and have a college degree, you are effectively a member of the most powerful people group the world has every known.
This isn’t a time to be scared. This is a time to be bold - a time to do work that matters. A time to leverage this unique point in human history that you are privileged to be a part of.
Now, I don’t believe in the myth of progress – that just by existing, over time, human beings will eventually figure out how to solve problems and save the world. I believe, as Dr King says,
“Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people willing to be co-workers with God.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
I believe that for centuries, God has been putting these pieces together. Despite the downturn in traditional church attendance,
I believe hundreds of millions of human beings have become co-workers with God to solve the greatest challenges of our time.
In His genius and benevolence, God uses weak-kneed, distracted, and anxious humans to achieve remarkable things in their daily lives.
God believes in this world and wants to invite you into His redemption of it. This invitation is an opportunity to impact the lives of others, change the world, and have your own heart and mind transformed as well.Despite the darkness in our world...
Within every tiny glimmer of hope is the hand of God clasped in partnership with the hands of human beings. (<-- Tweet that)
How exciting that we get to participate in this.
As Gary Haugen notes,
“The almighty God of the universe is prepared to use us, his people, to seek justice, to rescue the oppressed, to defend the orphan and to plead for the widow. How? By using the gifts, resources, relationships, expertise, and power that he has given us. Because the reason he has granted us these things is not merely for our joy (though great joy they rightly bring) but so that we might serve those who lack them.”
Despite the bad news you see on TV, good is winning in the world. And you have a chance to be a part of the team. The team of light and the team of hope.
Will you do something for me?
In the comments below, how does this news make you feel? Do you believe it? If not, why? What’s your role in all of this?
1. All the stuff about things getting better globally are great. But what does it mean for America?
According to Fareed Zakaria, “For America and for most places, peace and broader prosperity — “the rise of the rest” — means more opportunities. The United States of America still has the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, that dominates the age of technology, that hosts hundreds of the world’s greatest companies, that houses its largest, deepest capital markets, and that has almost all of the world’s greatest universities. This country has its problems, but I would rather have America’s problems than most any other place in the world.”
2. In the Bible, Jesus says, ‘the poor will always be with us.” What about that?
Great question. This is a common verse given by many Christians when asked about issues of poverty.
But let’s look at the context of that verse. In both Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7, we hear the story of Mary Magdalene pouring a $40,000 bottle of perfume on the feet of Jesus. Judas Iscariot (the keeper of the purse) is incensed, saying, “We could sell that perfume and give the money to the poor!” To which Jesus responds, “The poor will always be with you, but you will not always have me.”
In this verse, Jesus is talking to Judas, telling him his time on earth is short. He’s not making a statement about global economics or laying a theological framework for how Christians should treat the poor.
For more on this, watch the video by the Christian Advocacy Organization LIVE 58 called The Poor Will NOT Always Be With Us
3. Do you believe that God partners with people who don’t believe in him?
This is a very good question and one I’ve asked dozens of people to get their feedback. For me, theologically, I tend to think so. If anything for the basic reason that I believe God can do anything he wants. I believe God works in stealth, on purpose, tying things together, using anyone he chooses too. Wouldn’t suggesting that he only works through Christians limit the power of God?
The Bible is full of people who don’t believe in God but are used in special ways to either become believers or fulfill some portion of God’s work. For that reason alone, I’m inclined to say yes.
4. Are things really getting better in Africa?
Yes. Most definitely yes. It’s incredible really.
For visual types, check out Bono’s most recent Ted Talk. The Good News on Poverty (Yes, there's good news)
The Economist Article – Africa Rising: The Hopeful Continent
Sources:2012 Harvard Commencement Address - Fareed Zakaria The Good News On Poverty (Yes, there's good news) - Bono (TED Talk) Africa Rising: The Hopeful Continent- The Economist Good News About Injustice - Gary Haugen
God Has A Dream - Desmond Tutu
Surprised By Hope - NT Wright