The Last Word

Much to Be Grateful for This Holiday Season

A. Scott Anderson Nov 1, 2017
A. Scott Anderson, Zions Bank President and CEO
A. Scott Anderson, Zions Bank President and CEO

In this holiday season of thanksgiving and introspection, here’s something worthy of gratitude: We live at the best time in history. No other time is even close.

Some may dispute that assertion, given the pervasive headlines about natural disasters, racial tensions, war, political dysfunction, refugee camps, financial distress, opioid abuse and so forth.

But even the most pessimistic among us, if they look objectively at history, would have to admit that we live in really good times, especially in this country — and especially in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

I don’t mean to minimize the challenges many face. Hundreds of thousands have been severely impacted by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and fires. Many face financial difficulties, health problems and family dysfunction. In some categories of human progress, we still fall short.

Fewer Health Problems

Still, times are very good. We live longer; have fewer health problems; and are less likely to die by violence, in accidents or in war than ever before. We enjoy more material goods; life is more convenient; the air is cleaner and the water purer; and arts, cultural activities and entertainment options are more abundant than ever.

Thanks to rapidly advancing technology, such sectors as medicine, transportation, energy, financial services, manufacturing, construction and communications are making life better at ever-increasing rates.

No one can prevent a terrible natural catastrophe. But thanks to better building codes and much improved preparation, response and recovery operations, far fewer people are injured and killed when those disasters occur. 

Even people in the most modest of circumstances today live like kings could only dream of a few hundred years ago. Historians note that for millennia most people lived in near-universal poverty, governed by despots.

Working to Overcome Our Challenges

Even our responses to our weaknesses show progress. The fact that we are working hard on such difficult challenges as homelessness, air quality and race relations is a testament to how far we have come. In the past, when people were consumed with the basic needs of food, shelter and warmth, these matters were a much lower priority.

The New York Times recently reported that Louisville, Kentucky, police have reopened an investigation into the murder of an African-American civil rights pioneer some 52 years after her death. We have much work to do to eliminate racial tensions in society, but I see that news as progress.

Today, millions worldwide have been lifted out of abject poverty. Food is abundant and relatively inexpensive nearly everywhere. Obesity has become a far bigger problem than hunger.

Terrorism has emerged as the nation’s most serious external threat. And we face scary international situations like North Korea’s obsession with becoming a nuclear power. Still, the threat of widespread war with mass casualties is small.

Consider that in World War II, 60 million people died. The Battle of Stalingrad alone cost the lives of 2 million people. In a single day in the Civil War battle of Antietam more than 22,000 soldiers lost their lives.

More People Living in Peace

Steven Pinker, a Harvard University professor and popular science author writing in The Guardian newspaper, noted that more people are living in peace today than ever in history.

“Wars among great powers and developed states have effectively ceased to exist,” he wrote. Even small wars and civil wars have declined significantly, along with steep declines in genocides and mass killings, he added.

“As long as violence has not vanished altogether, there will always be enough explosions and gunfire to fill the news,” Pinker said, “while the vastly greater portion of the planet in which people live boringly peaceful lives is reporter-free and invisible.”

It’s important to maintain perspective. Author Michael Josephson wrote: “The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.”

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