Factfulness is the act of seeing things based on facts and data. The world in general has much progressing if you see facts, according to the book titled “Factfulness,” written by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. This book is one of the most eye-opening, influential, and healing books I’ve read recently. It opened up my eyes to a new worldview because many of what I had assumed turned out to be incorrect. After spending years working on economic and social data as an economist as well as a policy maker, I was shocked to find myself still prone to see the world with bias and some fear. The book was healing – even therapeutic, because once I knew that the world is progressing based on facts, a lot of unpleasant and fearful emotions were gone. I became more hopeful, instead. I realized how I had been stressed with the way I saw the world rather than what the world really is.
Is the world getting worse?
Do you agree to the statement: “The world is getting worse”? If you do, you would probably be in the vast majority of people all over the world, according to Hans. I also had tempted to think so before reading this book. In my experience, this is a common concept that many parents I’ve met shared. For example, the other day I went to a community luncheon. After discussing recent news on a murder of a college girl by a killer who met her online, the attendants of the luncheon all agreed that the world is getting scary and worse especially for youngsters and children.
But, is the world really getting worse? Overwhelming amount of data indicate that the world is actually getting better, says Hans. The number of countries with absolute poverty has been steadily declining; death toll from disaster has decreased; and primary school attendance has much improved in low income countries.
It’s our perception rather than facts
Then, why do we perceive that the world is getting worse if data and facts suggest otherwise? One reason (among others in the above-mentioned book) is that we instinctively tend to notice the bad more than the good. In addition, the media and journalists very often selectively spread negative news because negative and sensational stories attract more viewers than positive news does, as discussed by the author. Thus, negative news such as Venezuela’s political crisis makes headlines more likely than positive news such as Indonesian economy’s steady growth. No wonder so many of us conclude that the world is getting worse.
Factfulness benefits parents and children
So why does seeing the world based on facts – or Factfulness – help parents and children in particular? I suggest the following four viewpoints.
1. Factfulness helps parents relieve their fear and brings inner peace to them
Since I had my own child, I’ve had a long list of fear: What if I collapse now and my kid loses mother; What if my baby is victimized in a natural disaster or terror attack; What if SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) happens to my baby; and so on. Those may sound ridiculous, but my husband and I raise young children without family or community support in a town so far away from my home country. So I always have to prepare for a contingency plan, but my contingency plan would easily escalate to enormous fear when I was a new parent.
New parents have to protect young and vulnerable children; however, excessive fear can adversely affect their children. If parents are always too afraid, their negative emotion could quickly transmit to their children.
Once I start seeing the world based on facts and data, I became much healthier mentally. I know that the number of infant deaths is much lower than it used to be, and it is proven that parents’ proper acts (such as having infants sleep in a safe place) significantly decreases risks. The number of terror attacks and natural disasters is actually lower than it was decades ago.
2. Factfulness is Beneficial to Children
Children are usually more sensitive than adults. They are also vulnerable to shocking news that appeals to their instinct and brings fear, because they are still exploring the world and developing the ability to see things objectively. Parents, as well as educators and other family members, can help them to see things more objectively by teaching them facts and encouraging them to stay curious.
For example, my son loves airplanes – especially large and fast ones. When he saw the image of a Concorde’s crash back in 2000, he was deeply shocked. For the first time, he learned that the world’s fastest aircraft cabin once caused a tragic accident. The image was so vivid to him that he started to be afraid of air travel and talked about how to rescue passengers should accidents occur. To relieve his fear, I taught him that air trips are now very safe and that well-trained engineers, pilots, and cabin crews work very hard to prevent accidents.
Sooner or later young children will learn that human beings could make mistakes and that disasters unfortunately happen sometimes. But we can tell them how much improvement we have made to prevent another disaster.
3. Fact-based worldview helps parents make an important decision for children
If you have to make a decision for your children, do you want to do so based on feeling (or even fear), or on fact-based worldview?
Let me share a personal story that led me to think about parents’ fact-based decision making. Right after the US presidential election in 2016, I heard someone living in USA saying, “This country is getting worse. Our children will be better off in another country. So my husband and I are considering to have our preschool age child learn a new language, so that he can move to a better country in the future.” As a parent raising a bilingual child, I know how hard and consuming it is to learn and master a new foreign language. If young children are to master another language that are not spoken at home, they should make significant efforts in sacrifice of time and energy used otherwise.
I’m not arguing the costs and benefits of learning another language here; rather, my point is whether parents can make a good decision if they rely on feeling or fear rather than on facts.
Well, each parental decision is personal, and there are no “right” answers. But, if I have to make a decision for me and my family, I will do my best to use facts rather than relying on feeling or fear.
4. Factfulness helps children become good decision makers
“Decision making is one of the most important skills your children need to develop to become healthy and mature adults,” according to Jim Taylor, a Psychology professor at University of San Francisco. I think that Factfulness helps them to make decisions even better.
Let me talk about my experiences with my 5-year-old son who is proud to make a decision by himself and refuse any decisions I make for him. I’m in the process of encouraging my son to choose to be a healthy eater by informing him of the facts on the relationship between eating habits and health.
My 5-year-old son has been a picky eater since his early age. Although I have tried to fix it, he was so stubborn that I decided to wait with a hope that one day he will grow to a sensible man with decent eating habits. However, after reading a New York Times article on the importance of having healthy eating habits during infancy and early toddlerhood (my 5-year-old has already outgrown his early toddlerhood), I realized that I had to take an immediate action.
I started to inform him of human body, how it functions, and why good nutrition is essential to keep good health. Based on the information available in his picture books, we discuss how good eating is essential, what are the consequences if he continues to eat what he likes only. Then, I offer him choices of eating healthy meals, and then try to let him decide, because I want him to choose to eat well rather than being forced to eat well. It’s quite a tough and consuming process for both me and my son, but his eating habits seems to be improving although very gradually.
What do you think? Are you seeing the world differently now, in case you had pessimistic views? Learning Factfulness was a life-changing experience for me. Now I’m happily more open-minded, curious, and willing to share the joy of seeing the world based on facts.
Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund (2018), “Factfulness.” Flatiron Books.
(Cover Photo was taken by William Iven of Unsplash)