Bad news is loud. Good news rules

If you look behind the often dire headlines and examine the long-term trends, you'll see that crime is falling, lifespans are increasing, and poverty is ebbing. In other words, there's solid evidence for hope.

By , Editor

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    Schoolboys play in the yard of a primary school in Nyumbani, Kenya, established for aids orphans.
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There's much more good news than bad news. But bad news travels fast and commands attention. Good news is like water carving a valley or a tree gradually extending its branches. Good news is a child learning a little more each day or a business quietly prospering. We hardly notice it.

Examine the data over time, and you'l find irrefutable evidence of progress: the decline of war and violent crime, the increase in life spans; the spread of literacy, democracy, and equal rights; the waning of privilege based on race, gender, heredity, beliefs (Jina Moore and a team of Monitor writers say this much more specifically in our cover story: "Progress Watch 2012").

Every so often there are vivid scenes of good news -- Neil Armstrong bouncing onto the moon, revelers atop the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela walking out of Robben Island prison. But most of the time good news is incremental, which causes it to be taken for granted.

Not bad news. When we hear it, we sit up and ask, "What just happened?" Bad news can make us beat our fists on the table and ask where was God and how can such a terrible thing happen. Bad news is mesmerizing. We can't look away from a collapsing high-rise or an inundated coastal town. We know the meaning of a sidewalk filled with flowers and teddy bears.

Bad news is insistent. In fairness, bad news isn't all bad. It can alert us to problems that need to be addressed. But in the grand scheme of things, there's actually not that much of it . Oh, there's always enough for a front page or a Web bulletin or a nightly newscast, although sometimes reporters have to travel to the ends of the earth to find it. Bad news has a natural advantage, however. It pulses through humanity's central nervous system -- word of mouth, the media, the Internet. Its images are riveting and its stories are dramatic. It floods the zone.

And when there's a shortage of bad news in the present, we can always turn to the future. Welcome to worry, dread, and pessimism. Sure, things seem OK now, but just over the horizon a disaster is brewing. Don't be a sap. Bad things are on the way.

They probably are. And they'll shock us and again make us wonder if life is out of control. But in this last issue of our news magazine for 2012, we're looking in the rearview mirror to see how things are going, and we're finding plenty of reason for hope.

Hope helps. It keeps us going in bleak times and amid disheartening news. But hope has much more credibility when we can point to the reason for it. Asserting that we should all cheer up is sweet. Knowing why is powerful.

Here are some reasons for hope: Extreme poverty is declining. HIV is no longer a death sentence. Technology is transforming everything from African agriculture to urban transportation. Drug violence is decreasing in Mexico. Travel is safer almost everywhere. Crime rates are falling. Somalia is emerging from a long night of anarchy. Myanmar (Burma) is coming out of its dictatorial shell. And while it's true that China and Russia are only semi-free and the Egypt and other post-dictator nations may be going down ill-considered paths, water is still carving the valley. Freedom lives in 7 billion hearts.

Bad news will make headlines in 2013. But good news will quietly rule.

 John Yemma is editor of the Monitor. He can be reached at editor@csmonitor.com.

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