September 2017

Is the World Really Such a Bad Place?

Author: Kent Thune

Do you ever feel like the world is becoming an increasingly bad place to live—one that is producing more terrorists, corrupt politicians, deadly diseases, and natural disasters than ever before? And if that’s not bad enough, we also have handheld devices, social media, and Kardashians polluting the minds of generations that will soon enough be the leaders of our world.

If the picture you see is less than rosy, you’re not alone. According to U.S. News & World Report, a 2016 survey of more than 21,000 people from 36 countries in all regions of the world revealed that 60 percent of people polled believe that the world has become worse in the past year, rather than getting better or staying the same.

Are these people correct in their negative outlook? Is the world really going to hell in a handbasket, as most people around the globe perceive it? Perhaps a better question to ask is this: Are more terrible things happening to us, or is there just more media coverage of the negative events with barely any mention of the positive?

To begin answering these questions, consider the modern structure of the evening news. In a typical 30-minute newscast, approximately 28 minutes are packed with negative reports, with only about two minutes of positive relief at the end. This ratio of bad to good doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of the day. It’s just that reporters in television journalism know what makes people tune in. They have a saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

So, the formula for the evening news is always the same: Start with the worst news of the day; transition into the regular bad stuff; then end with a brief, heart-warming, human interest story. And if a media outlet wants to promote a story in advance of its airing, it will provoke (and often frighten) people into watching. You’ve probably heard a promotional lead like this: “Are your children safe riding the school bus? Tune in to the six o’clock news to find out….”

Not only are people drawn to seeing, hearing and reading stories on tragedy and crime, the constant exposure from almost every media source changes our perspective, and mostly toward the negative. Making matters worse, humans can’t help but watch the proverbial train wreck as it happens, and the media knows this. If we cover our eyes, we’ll at least peak through the gaps between our fingers to catch a few glimpses of the wreckage. The news outlets are just providing what people can’t resist seeing.

In addition to the narrow, negative window through which we look at the world, we should also discount another misleading factor, called the recency effect, which is a psychological phenomenon that has us humans focusing more on current and recent events rather than those occurring in the not-so-distant past. For example, from the same study that said 60 percent of people believe the world is getting worse, the countries that most recently experienced negative events had the most negative outlook on the world. In that study, survey responses from Turkey revealed that 82 percent believed the world was worse in 2016 than in the previous year. The poll was taken just after a military coup took place in that country. How can you blame the Turks for turning negative? So, when it seems the world is getting worse, it’s likely that just the place in which one lives is getting worse, not the world as a whole, and it’s simply a temporary turn.

For those of us fortunate enough to live in better relative conditions, we can thank mass media for painting a picture of the world that is uglier than reality, combined with our complacency in allowing these misrepresentations to cloud our thinking (or by continuing to consume the so-called news, rather than reading a book, having an engaging conversation, or listening to music).

Yes, there are “bad people” in the world, and terrible tragedies are occurring every day. But does the bad-to-good ratio on the news reflect that of reality? And how much worse is the world today than it was decades, centuries or millennia ago, when there were plenty of terrible things happening?

If you could count all the worst human beings on the planet—the bad politicians, the biggest thieves, the abusers of children and animals, the rapists, the murderers, and the terrorists—what do you think the total number would be? Although you may only see or hear about a dozen or so of these horrible human beings per day, the number of truly bad people in the world is likely in the thousands, and possibly in the millions, depending upon one’s definition of “bad.”

Let’s say the number of truly bad people on earth is a ridiculously large number, like 7 million. Sounds frightening, doesn’t it? But this number represents one-tenth of one percent of the entire world population, which is around 7 billion (that’s 7,000,000,000) as of this writing. In this perspective, 99.9 percent of the people in the world are good (or at least not purely bad)! Put in a simpler way that’s easier to imagine, you can expect to encounter 999 good people before running across one bad one. It’s just that the bad ones are easier to notice and harder to forget.

For comparison’s sake, how many terrible human beings, tragedies, and natural disasters around the world do you see or hear about every day in the news media? Maybe a total of three, four, or even ten at the most? And how many good stories do you see or hear? Maybe one? The bad news almost always outnumbers the good. But the news is not reality—it’s another form of distraction, escape or illusion. Can you see how this information can corrupt the mind? How can we not be deceived into thinking the world is a terrible place?

To make your world better, or at least to see the bigger picture, which is almost always better than it seems, remember to keep a few things in mind: The media does not exist to keep the masses well-informed; it exists to profit by selling advertising. How do they sell advertising? They attract attention to gain viewers, listeners, or readers, which will then attract the business of advertisers. Whether the information the media shares with you is truthful or useful is, at best, secondary to their priority of getting you to watch, listen, read, or click on the story.

It’s also important to keep in mind that everything in your life, which is the world as you know it, is in a constant state of flux. There are good times, bad times, and in-between times. If you are going through something negative, just remember that it’s temporary. As Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

And on a final note: When you run across a truly terrible person, just remember that there are at least 999 others who are good.

Kent Thune is the owner of a Hilton Head Island investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. He is also a personal financial counselor to service members on Parris Island and is a freelance writer. You can follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at TheFinancialPhilosopher.com or on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

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