Glass Half Full or Half Empty
I don’t describe myself as seeing the world through a full-glass lens, but I’m also not a half-empty-glass person. Even though this is comparing apples to oranges, glass half full notion compared to the ten reasons we’re wrong outlined in Factfulness, it does represent how I tend to generalize things. But then the generalization instinct is what everyone automatically does, according to authors Hans and Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund.
One goal of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World is to shine a light on the reality of how far we’ve come in the world and how many problem areas are improving. Their work is based on “numerous charts, graphs, tables and numbers, compiled from thirteen survey questions (with answers).” The survey topics were public health, environment, and population surveys. Another goal of their work was to demonstrate that humans have a negative view of the world and are often just plain wrong about how they (we) interpret the world we live in.
As I read several reviews about the book, three other books that we’ve read came to mind. The first book was How to Read Numbers. We were challenged to overcome our fear of math, question the statistics we hear from journalists and other organizations, and, more importantly, take the necessary steps to become a literate population. Tom and David Chivers argued: that we cannot have a democratic society without literacy. How can we expect to understand the charts, graphs, and other math-derived summaries about the world at large if we need help understanding the basics? It is much easier for some to think ‘the world is going to hell.” Hmm. Is that another one of my generalizations? Or it may be my negative instinct. After I study my survey results, I’ll get back to you later as to which instinct it is.
The second book that Factfulness reminded me of was Sway. Richard L. Goerwitz writes in his review that a more profound goal of Rosling et al.’s was to “simply make us aware of these instincts, and to open us up to seeing that…not all is dark and gloom.” The idea that people tend to be closed minded in regard to welcoming a new way of thinking – particularly if it requires deeper introspection – was reinforced in reading Sway. Is the close-mindedness Goerwitz refers to in his review in the category of the unconscious/implicit bias Dr. Argawal writes about? I don’t have a scientific answer; perhaps this is my single perspective instinct kicking in, causing me to jump to conclusions based on one thing.
The final book that is worth mentioning is Mining for Gold. Camacho’s book was a mighty encouragement to look for the good in people. As leaders, coaches, and parents, whatever role(s) we operate in, it is indicative to look for the good in the people and the world around us. And that’s the high-level connection I’ve made between the two books and the gift these authors have given the world. I wonder, would this be a straight-line instinct?
In summary, I traveled to Jaigaon, India, several years ago on a mission trip. If you were to Google pictures of Jaigaon, many pictures in the search results are actual images of Bhutan. The two are neighboring communities and living conditions show a stark contrast. Based on my unscientific guess, Jaigaon was a level 1, and Bhutan was a level 2. My conclusion is this, I had never seen poverty at level 1 or 2 before, and it left an indelible mark on my psyche. If anyone remembers the movie Slumdog Millionaire, it was highly accurate in its depiction of what poverty was like in India. (The movie came out several months after my trip.) The survey results used in writing Factfulness reveal that the poverty in India and elsewhere is decreasing, and children are faring better health-wise. In that case, I say, Thank God.
 Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund, Factfulness New York: Flatiron books, 2018), 146.
 Goerwitz III, Richard L. 2019. “Review of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling.” Numeracy: Advancing Education in Quantitative Literacy 12 (2): 1, doi:10.5038/1936-4618.104.22.168.
 Ibid., 1.
 Data Book Podcast https://open.spotify.com/episode/6587RhkUIICncKWcpHX3Po
 Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund, Factfulness New York: Flatiron books, 2018), 48.
 Goerwitz III, Richard L. 2019. “Review of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling.” Numeracy: Advancing Education in Quantitative Literacy 12 (2): 3, doi:10.5038/1936-4622.214.171.124.
 Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund, Factfulness New York: Flatiron books, 2018), 186.
 Ibid., 93.
 Ibid., 34-35.
 Ibid., 53-64.
9 responses to “Glass Half Full or Half Empty”
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Audrey, as I was reading you post I came to the thought of experience vs statistics. The things we experience in poverty stricken places can break our heart and yet the numbers can show statistically the issues are improving. Which is good, but what about the one… the one who is still stuck in extreme poverty? Jesus tells the parable of the shepherd who went after the one. So, then in Rosling’s goal to change our perspective can we fall into the optimism trap and miss the value of feeling the heart break of the one? Just some thought that I was trying to process.
Sara, you absolutely nailed my concern about the book. Dr. Clark said to have fun with it – so I tried to keep it somewhat light.
Thank you for your comments.
Yes, suffering is suffering, no matter if it’s pervasive or impacts one. Thank you, Audrey and Sara for pointing this out.
How did your trip change your life and what facts did it bring to life other than living conditions?
Shonell, great question. The trip was also my first exposure to the youth organization YWAM (Youth With A Mission). They were young Chinese-Indian-Mongol Christians on fire for the Lord. Their leader was a young Philippine woman. I remember how much they were sacrificing and how they had to believe in God even for the little things. Bibles and tracts. Bottled water. The area was heavily influenced by Hinduism as you might imagine – so they were not popular. Consequently, they were experiencing mighty miracles of provision, salvation, and healing.
Wow Audrey…How did the experience of being in Jaigaon impact your ministry when you returned? Those kind of experiences are life-changing.
Chad, the experience was life-changing.
In terms of my ministry – it made me closer to the Lord. I traveled alone for over 34 hours and navigated to a country where I didn’t speak the language (I subsequently met up with the international team in Bagdogra.) And seeing the faith of the YWAM team, their leader, and the local church pastors who came from miles away to attend the leadership seminar we conducted was inspiring.
When I returned to the States I was more determined than ever to reach out to people in the community to encourage and train in Bible-based topics.
But nothing compares to our South Africa experience
“Another goal of their work was to demonstrate that humans have a negative view of the world and are often just plain wrong about how they (we) interpret the world we live in.” This right here made me pause and think. I am generally a very optimistic guy but recently I have found myself with a more of a negative view on things and I think I have pinpointed the source. Usually what we consume is how we see the world. Thanks for sharing
Thank you Audrey for bringing in this quote: “simply make us aware of these instincts, and to open us up to seeing that…not all is dark and gloom.”
It makes me think of the maxim that things are not as bad as they seem, nor are they as good as they seem. The trick to avoiding binary thinking is recognizing things are far more complex than “all good” or “all bad.”
And thank you for bringing up your experience in India. I’ve never been, but my wife has been twice. She loves India. And her favorite movie is “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Have a great, restful summer Audrey!