We should have a more optimistic outlook on the world. Extreme poverty has significantly decreased over the past few decades, global population growth is slowing down, more children are attending school than ever before, and overall health and life expectancy have improved worldwide.
In the United States, only 5% of the population believed that the level of extreme poverty has been halved in the past 20 years.
The worldwide income categories can be divided into four levels:
Level 1: less than $2 a day
Level 2: $2–$8 a day
Level 3: $8–$32 a day
Level 4: $32+ a day
The vast majority of the countries are in the middle (Level 2 or 3) income levels. We tend to underestimate how developed lower-income countries are. The concept of “developing” and “developed” countries made sense decades ago but not today.
There are ten overdramatic instincts that distort our perspectives.
One: The Gap Instinct - Tendency to divide things into two distinct and often conflicting groups with an imagined gap between them.
The East-vs-West divide portrays the West and the East as fundamentally different due to factors like high birth rates, religion, and culture. In reality, the “East” and “developing” countries have made significant progress toward modernization.
Solution: Locate the majority/middle of both groups. Ask “Is there really a gap?”
Two: The Negativity Instinct - Tendency to focus on the bad rather than the good.
We believe that the world is getting worse, despite evidence to the contrary. Media outlets feed on our negativity instinct, and our overexposure to news exacerbates the negative outlook. Many positive trends often go unnoticed due to the negativity instinct.
Low child mortality rates are an indicator of improved overall health, education, and economic systems. In 1965, 125 nations fell into the "developing" category with child mortality rates over 5%, whereas today only 13 countries remain in that category.
60% of the girls in low-income nations finish public school.
80% of one-year olds worldwide are vaccinated.
In 1800, 85% of the world lived in extreme poverty, whereas today, that percentage has dropped to 9%.
Due to progress in building materials, the rate of natural disaster deaths today is only 25% of what it was 100 years ago.
Solution: Expect bad news from the media, accept problems, and acknowledge progress. Ask “Would improvement get attention?”
Three: The Straight-Line Instinct - Tendency to assume linear trends will perpetually continue.
Our fear of overpopulation is overblown. As poverty decreases, the birth rate decreases. We will likely peak around 11 billion. Population won't grow linearly as our instinct might suggest.
Solution: Know most trends are not linear. Ask 'Why wouldn't this linear line bend?'
Four: The Fear Instinct - Tendency to overestimate risk.
Our fear instinct developed as a survival mechanism, protecting us from threats in more dangerous times. However, in today's safer world, we tend to misplace or exaggerate our fears and worries.
Solution: Evaluate the risks with facts and avoid making decisions when in fear. Ask “Is it really dangerous?”
Five: The Size Instinct - Tendency to overvalue data that's out of context.
When we receive data we should put it in the right context. For example, 4 million infant deaths in a year might sound bad, but if we realize 14.4 million infants died in 1950 we can see that much progress has been made.
Solution: Compare with other data and get the context. Ask “Is it bad in comparison?”
Six: The Generalization Instinct - Tendency to generalize people and countries.
People in higher-income countries generalize that people in lower-income countries all live in poverty. To develop an accurate worldview and avoid generalization, it is crucial for individuals to seek multiple perspectives.
Solution: Traveling to other countries is a good way to gain perspective. Examine your categories. Ask “How are they different?”
Seven: The Destiny Instinct - Tendency to assume innate and immutable characteristics.
Many feel Africa can't reach economic prosperity because of fundamental differences in culture and religion when the data is proving that notion false.
Solution: Notice slow changes. Ask “Isn't it always changing slowly?”
Eight: The Single Perspective Instinct - Tendency to prefer single causes and single solutions.
Complex problems require careful consideration of all possible facts and outcomes, and simple causes and solutions are rare. People favor simplicity because it's easier to understand.
Do not exaggerate your claims. Exaggeration might spur action in the short-term but it's harmful in the long-term as you'll lose credibility.
Solution: Use multiple tools to conceive ideas and be aware of your limitations. Ask “What other solutions exist?”
Nine: The Blame Instinct - Tendency to blame someone or something salient for problems.
Blaming the CEO of a pharmaceutical company for not researching diseases that primarily affect impoverished populations overlooks the influence of board members and shareholders.
Blaming traffickers for refugee deaths fails to examine the deeper problem of stringent European laws regarding refugee travel.
Solution: Refrain from assigning blame solely to individuals or specific groups, try to see the bigger picture. Ask, “What system made this possible?”
Ten: The Urgency Instinct - Tendency to make quick decisions in tense situations.
Rash decisions are often regrettable and we should consider all the facts and long-term consequences before deciding something important.
Solution: Take small steps. Ask “Can we make decisions as we go?”