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A Very Refreshing Read
Every year, I look forward to the release of Bill Gates’ summer reading list. I’m always looking for interesting books, and I figure that his recommendations are as good, if not better, than anyone’s. After reading his picks for 2018, I grabbed a copy of “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling. I’ve found it to be a breath of fresh air, especially given that everywhere you turn these days you find bad news and doomsayers.
The basic premise of the book is that people are predisposed to negative thinking, even when the facts dictate otherwise. “Think about the world,” Rosling writes. “War, violence, natural disasters, man-made disasters, corruption. Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right?” In a sense, he is encouraging you to adopt the worldview that he goes on to disprove in the rest of the book. There’s even a quiz in the introduction that tests people’s knowledge about poverty, disease, violence, and other statistics. Unfailingly, people choose answers that make the world out to be worse than it is. The word he uses to describe this outlook is “overdramatic.” Rosling goes on to encourage people to make sure their opinions are backed by facts and that those facts are properly researched and accurate. He encourages smart, thorough, independent thinking. His approach to the world is something I think a whole lot more people should adopt. I don’t want you to think I’m advocating blind optimism. Rosling isn’t, either. When the numbers and facts demonstrate that something is wrong, he won’t pretend otherwise. He notes, for example, that an overwhelming number of climate experts believe the world is getting hotter. What
he doesn’t do is turn this one serious issue into a blanket condemnation of our current condition. The message of “Factfulness” is particularly relevant to federal employees, because they’re a group of people who are constantly being told their world is crumbling down. Some of that anxiety is the result of having so many factors out of your control. Funding can change, departments can get downsized, and jobs are often lost. The vast majority of public sector employees, however, have more stability than they realize. Yet one negative thought or passed-around “fact” can cause widespread panic. The next time you’re presented with a story about how bad your job or the world is, I encourage you to ask two important questions. One, do the facts support this story? Two, what does it mean for me? Without this important perspective, it’s easy to become overdramatic and pessimistic. When you cut through all the noise, though, you’ll find things are a lot more harmonious than they first appeared.
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