Writings

Their future in our hands


Hans Rosling, the Swedish physician, statistian, public speaker and (yes) sword swallower, who recently passed away, is often mentioned in those dinner talks about the state of the world that we all have once in a while, as the voice of optimism. Not a hippie or a buddhist monk, Mr. Rosling represents the scientific mind that we trust, and to our surprise, he gives us nothing but good news.
Their future in our hands
With a state of the art design in the approach to the otherwise boring science of statictics, we can see him in numerous TED talks and other conference venues, boasting an information rich positivsm that gives us long awaited relief from the pessimistic trend in the scientific world. His message is clear: humanity has never been better. With a long list of data to support this statement and a wonderfully charismatic personality, at the end of each single one of his presentations, he leaves you with a sense of hope, of possibilities.

Compared to any other time in history, and even taking in consideration the less developed countries, health care, education and social support are better now. Access to food clearly more widespread and famine in a dramatic reccess. There is less war and severe poverty has been reduced to an all time low. What about civil rights? Well, there has been no better time in history than now to be either a child or a woman and sexual, racial and religious minorities live better lives than they have ever lived. This bonanza is far from perfect, is not sealed in stone and doesn't reach everywhere, he admits, but in comparative terms, humanity is better than ever. And we must agree, numbers don't lie.

Or do they? I've been loving his talks, reading his numbers and laughing at his jokes. Mr. Rosling was a wonderful human being and to be honest, quite a convincing one too. Hell, I want to be convinced! Everything is better and going towards even better and not people, but numbers say so! That is honey for my skeptical ears. And yet... I don't feel it in my tummy. It doesn't seem true, it doesn't convince my intuition. May be, like he says, I am biased towards negativity, just like everyone else, riding a wave of sensationalism that always points to the dark side of things. My scientific upbringing strongly condemns the maintenance of any position just for the sake of being right. Being right because you have the wrong information or point of perspective is being wrong without the awareness of it. Or as Buddhists call it, ignorance.

So I have spent a few days thinking about it: what is it that I am resisting, why, is there a flaw, where...? And as usual playing with my favourite question of all times, the one that goes beyond discursive thought: does it make sense? Are we really better than ever? It took me a while, but my confusion got dispelled when I decided to break his statement to its simplest parts. Who is 'we' and what is 'better'. Looking into his talks I found that he generally identified 'we' with 'humans of the present' and 'better' with 'more comfortable'. And then I saw it clear. He was right, totally, humans of the present are of course more comfortable than ever before.

But... Oh, at what cost! We have stolen from pretty much every less technologically developed culture of the past with extreme violence, we are provoking with our addiction to comfort a massive extinction in both the animal kingdom and most vegetable ecosystems throghout the planet and we have aquired an enormous debt to future generations by depleting natural and energy resources. All this in order to manufacture comfort and ease of life to a handful of generations of humans in a time frame that in earth standards doesn't amount to more than a second of its existence. We have taken HUGE stakes and forced ourselves, and the rest of the planet with us, into the narrowest bottle neck in recorded history. So, true, we are better, we rather be, but we must understand that we have gone all in for this improvement, so we better make it durable, stable and find solutions that take us all, humans and non humans, present and future, out of this bottle neck soon, or else this time of prosperity will soon become a mere anecdote in human and planetary existence.

I drew another part of my reasoning from my job. One of the blessings of being a yoga teacher is that I get to meet, quite intimately, many people from all walks of life, men, women, young, old, rich and not so rich. I get most of my information from the average citizen: teachers, nurses, lawyers, gardeners, prison guards, politicians or consultants, and I often find that while many of them are successful, safe, prosperous, loved and healthy, they feel no relief for the hole inside their human heart. Everyday heroes, conscious yogis, who are trying to give their grain of sand for the improvement of their communities are often broken, burnt out feel alone and sad, betrayed by the prosperity dream that breast fed them. Even when we are supported by the most widespread blooming of spiritual teachings that the world has ever seen, comfort, as it turns out, does not equate happiness. Not even human happiness.

I never heard of him before his passing away, but as I researched for this article, I have grown to like Mr. Rosling quite a lot, he was one cool cat, and I found myself with so many questions for him:

- How is it possible that Sweden and Denmark, two of the most prosperous, most socially conscious countries in the world, are number five and six respectively in the use of antidepressants, number one and two in Europe?

- Would a baby whale who just lost her mother to a plastic intoxication think that this is the best time in history? Or a white Rinho? Or a member of an Amazonian tribe?

- Which statistics is my daughter going to use when she has to explain her grandaughter that Portugal and Spain used to be green and wet?

- Mr. Trump is president while Mr. Snowden is in exile. How are we not more clever than that in 2017?

- It seems to me that as we leave behind a hard days work in our central heated house while watching a movie on Netflix, it is easier for us to give a break to our dark coloured gay neighbour, but do you think that this is true compassion, do you think we have left hard judgement behind? or is it just latent, waiting, dormant only to wake up again with the next reccession, with the next wave of mass immigration, with the next war?

These and so many more questions, I'll ask you over a cold beer, Mr. Rosling, when we meet on a hopefully far away breezy summer night in the Swedish country side of the beyond. And together we can find out a way to be positive but this time including a little more than just now, a little more than just comfort and a little more than just us.

I am positive, I would not meditate or do the work I do if I wasn't. If I thought that everything is going down the drain I'd get a high paying job and buy my 100 square metres of safety. I really think things can change for good. But I have devoted my life to the search of truth and that makes me also a realist and as such I feel concern for my daughter and my daughter's offspring, for the future of the planet and all its inhabitants. In this historic bottle neck that we are living, their future is in our hands. If we truly honor the memory of such beautiful humans as Hans Rosling, who gave their best in leading us from darkness to light, may we wake up and start working now towards a sustainable civilitation.

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