Hans Rosling’s Factfulness and the Search for Compassion Behind the Numbers Part 2

Hans Rosling’s Factfulness and the Search for Compassion Behind the Numbers Part 2

Rosling Factfulness Compassion P2ArtGraphic Aberjhani C2019Despite our vastly different approaches and backgrounds, I began to feel the goals and values which had driven me for more than a decade to write Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah were more like than unlike those which had prompted Dr. Rosling to condense a lifetime of experiences into the pages of Factfulness. What was important in the end was learning from mistakes and finding ways to work with others to correct them. If lucky (or maybe just determined), we might in the process contribute to the establishment of more compassionate communities nurtured by more just and caring nations. 

This first struck me as likely when noting Rosling's description of himself as: a “possibilist…who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview” (p. 69). It aligned closely with my contention over the years that more life-affirming options were available to resolve humanity's collective dilemmas than generally acknowledged.

Realization Dreams GR Quote Art2XBy Aberjhani C2018He further appeared to confirm shared objectives with this statement: “I love data only when it helps me to understand the reality behind the numbers, i.e., people’s lives. In my research I have needed the data to test my hypotheses, but the hypotheses themselves often emerged from talking to, listening to, and observing people” (p. 191). That pretty much erased whatever remained of my initial reservations. 

The approach to writing Dreams was borrowed from the strategies of literary journalism and classic memoirists. That meant immersing myself into a given environment with its unpredictable swirl of events and personalities. But also: "talking to, listening to, and observing people."

Numbers & Validation

The emergence of specific numbers or patterns of numbers, like the ratio of residents under the age of 30 in contrast to those over the age of 50, or that contrasting families living in poverty with those who were not, helped validate important themes. One such validation came when learning that scrambling to adjust to the needs of an elderly matriarch was not just an isolated family predicament. It was part of a world historic trend impacting both individual lives and national economies across the globe.

The numbers were also important when it came to confirming the similarity of human practices and experiences beyond cultural or political boundaries (something Rosiling does with photographs of how people in different countries living at various income levels cook food or sleep). These helped dissolve the exaggerated perceptions of "otherness" which have made it so easy for some to give in to hate and violence as means to communicate their grievances with the world. Or with Life itself.

It would, at this point, be disingenuous not to acknowledge numbers also play within Dreams a key metaphysical role you probably will not find duplicated in a work of more formal academic or scientific research. The story in which this is most evident is “Savannah by the Twenty-first Century Numbers,” which presents inerpretations of metaphysical dispositions and how they relate, or possibly could relate, to changing demographics and cultural diversity.

Sell Art OnlineThus far, however, Dreams as a whole has been grouped on reading sites with such memoir and contemporary American southern literature titles as: Debbie Herbert’s Cold Waters, Elie Wiesel’s Night, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, and Ravi Howard’s Driving the King.

The question of whether or not I had done a disservice to my readers or to Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah itself by not taking time to apply Rosling’s principles more strictly to my text bugged me for a while. Then I decided I had not because of the nuances of poetic and philosophical reflection I hoped to capture: such as how historical trends sometimes lead us to manifest what Abraham Lincoln called the “angels of our better nature,” or the way they sometimes prompt the opposite.



The biggest factor may have been my observations, and my experiences, of families and individuals whose lives moved back and forth between Rosling’s four levels, finding a taste of paradise, then losing it, and then laboring to reclaim it again. Rosling does point out the need, however, to address complexity when attempting to construct a useful, close-to-accurate, understanding of the world. And it could be my concern is a reflection of that same complexity.   

The combination of memoir, reportage, and analysis which Rosling and company employs in Factfulness makes it as much a work of literary journalism as it does one of applicable scientific or sociological research. That distinction is noteworthy because much of world literature may be considered an important dialogue on the ins and outs, ups, downs, and intriguing tragicomic in-betweens of the human condition. It also underscores our collective capacity for finding compassion behind the numbers which reveal so well how close we are to making the best of what it means to be human—or how far we’ve yet to go before putting the worst behind us.

May 2019




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