This Christmas, give yourself the gift of a long exhalation.
Realize that despite being bombarded daily with horrible news of death and destruction on radio, television and the Internet, we do indeed live in a safer and better world than our ancestors. When something bad happens nowadays, anywhere in the world, we all hear about it. It’s front and center — professional and cell phone video assaulting our senses, affecting us physically and emotionally, as if it were happening just down the street. But is the impression accurate that that the world and civilization are descending into chaos?
Despite daily reports of deadly weather systems, natural disasters, mass shootings and terrorist attacks, and with civil wars and revolutions raging around the world, we actually live in one of the safest periods in human history. Life expectancy never has been higher. And while trends in income disparity and concentration of wealth are worrisome, the vast majority of people around the world are better off economically now than even just a few decades ago.
Balderdash, you say? Well, there are statistics to back up that positive outlook. Oxford University professor Max Roser says there are ample hard facts to prove it. According to Roser, death rates from violence and disease are lower than ever. Rates of literacy are higher around the globe, and education is more widely accessible than ever before. And to top it off, more people than ever live in democratic societies.
The National Crime Victimization Survey reports that the rate of violent crimes here in our country has declined some 67 percent since 1993. That reflects a 70 percent decline in sexual assault, a 66 percent decline in robberies, a 77 percent decline in serious assaults and a 64 percent decline in less violent attacks, according to the FBI. Over that same time period, the homicide rate has fallen by 51 percent. Property damage crimes also decreased significantly.
According to Harvard University’s Steven Pinker, “Violence has been in decline over long stretches of time, and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.” For some, the notion that these are peaceful times strains credulity. But acknowledging these positive trends offers hope rather than despair.
The recent treaty in Paris also suggests that most nations — and more importantly, corporations and financial institutions — around the world finally are beginning to take climate change seriously.
Certainly, all that seldom-shared good news doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make the world a better place. And what better time of year to rededicate ourselves to that proposition than at Christmas?
Even with all the well-publicized evil in the world, even with a seemingly endless stream of calamity, the vast majority of people everywhere are kind, most religions still preach peace and it’s a great time to be alive. Celebrating the joy, acknowledging the positive and sharing our collective good fortune are what Christmas is all about.