Vienna seems to have subscribed to pole positions in city rankings on quality of life, such as the Mercer Survey or the Livability Ranking by the Economist. European education systems may not all be top end, but we take it for granted that every child goes to school, and many people pursue higher education. Prices for basically everything increase all the time, but death by starvation is not something Europeans need to worry about. We do like to complain about things (after all, that’s the Viennese way to deal with the world), but deep down, we know that we are privileged, and every now and then, there is this vague sensation of guilt, because our privileges seem to simply originate from the coincidence of being born in a better place, at a better time, than so many others.
We know that other parts of the world are far worse off – because we are educated, because we read newspapers, and because we claim to care. What we do not realize, though, is that poverty is a spectrum of many different shapes and shades. And we seem to develop a tendancy to consequently underestimate less privileged people and areas. Being asked how many years women worldwide go to school, more than 90% of respondants in Sweden estimated three years or five years – while the correct answer would have been seven years (opposed to eight years among men).
All you need is…facts
This is just one of the questions that well-known TED-speaker Hans Rosling and his son Ola ask people to prove that what we like to call “human intuition” often leads us to nothing but plain ignorance. Fittingly, the name of that project is The Ignorance Project, and its goal is certainly not to expose how superficial mankind is, but to re-program our intuition to make it an instrument to get a grip on reality again.
As fascinating as the project as well as the survey results are, the Roslings are facing criticism, among others the accuse to spread an optimism that could be abused to liberate Europe from its responsibilites towards the developing countries. But unreflected optimism is not what Hans and Ola Rosling are striving for. The awareness of facts, however, is the only base for decisions to increase the status quo. Or in, Hans Rosling’s words: “The first thing to think about the future, is to know about the present.”
Invest half an hour of your Sunday to become less ignorant, and watch the highly inspiring talk by Hans and Ola Rosling at TEDSalon Berlin 2014.
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