The funny thing about my response to Hans Rosling’s brilliantly innovative book, Factfulness, is I purchased it while completing revisions of my own book: Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah. However, I then promptly set it aside until Dreams was in the hands of my publisher and well on its way to the printer.
Given Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s exceptional endorsement Factfulness (co-authored by Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund), there was little reason to doubt its examination of “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think" was fully worth my committed attention. The cautiousness I felt stemmed mostly from concern the Factfulness in question might be overloaded with an excess of data and abstract theories while ignoring the intent behind my own work.
The journalist in me always welcomes insightful research anchored by documented trends. The poet in me welcomes even more strategies and proposed solutions informed by compassion plus analytical insight. Therefore, acknowledging the hearts and souls that give often-referenced numbers their significance means a lot to me.
Developing a New Perspective
Doubt and apprehensiveness lingered throughout my reading of the first chapter on “The Gap Instinct.” I accepted easily enough Rosling’s proposal that for purposes of public discourse we should do away with the term “developing countries” and instead adopt language suitable for “sorting countries" into 4 income levels. Level 1 would be home to the most impoverished and Level 4 comfortably occupied by the wealthiest. Levels 2 and 3 could be considered the international middle classes.
Upon reading the following, the only thing I could do was smile: “Since you are reading this book, I’m pretty sure you live on Level 4” (p. 37). In fact, at this specific point in my life, I'm nowhere near it. But just by reading the book, it would seem, I at least possess Level 4 instincts, or qualities, and have adopted practices which may yet elevate my economic status.
Rosling’s notion, nevertheless, appealed to me. Factfulness essentially provides us with a framework and set of lens through which to view and assess the evolving realities of nations and individuals. Moreover, how could anyone not admire the depth to which the good doctor's reasoning was by informed by his many years of service to humanity? Given my passion for real-life historical literary heroes who, somehow, managed to beat the odds against them in order to produce compelling classic works, I had to admit he just might belong on the same level as those very heroes. He had, after all, devoted his final breaths to completing it.
Instinct & Realization
Going from one chapter to the next, Rosling points out how our worldviews may be distorted by 10 factors, or tendencies, categorized as follows: the Gap instinct, Negativity, Straight Line, Fear, Size, Generalization, Destiny, Single, Blame, and Urgency. What astonished me was how often he presented stories of himself giving in to these instincts. In one such account, by way of demonstrating the Fear Instinct, he mistakes a Swedish pilot for a potential Russian fighter pilot and almost needlessly destroys an expensive air force G-suit to treat him.
In another, illustrating the Urgency Instinct, he endorses a suggestion to prevent the spread of a contagious disease in Nacala, Mozambique, by setting up a military roadblock to prevent buses from entering the area. The result is one of unexpected deadly consequences. The unreserved humility with which this world-class educator and medical researcher shares his hard-won lessons is admirable. Although humanity's capacity for compassion IS not been included as a resource for making "things" better, and the word compassion does not appear in the index of Factfulness, the various elements of which is is comprises--like empathy, mindfulness, forgiveness--are evident enough.
Necessity & Recognition
The need to confront and learn from mistakes, combined with the compassion often required to accomplish precisely that, is a major theme which runs throughout the text and art of Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah. Some of the errors examined I considered my own. Some I did not. All required adapting to the demands of reevaluation and change.
The story "Trees Down Everywhere," for example, presents a meditation on the consequences of denying the realities of climate change. It further considers the necessity to exercise compassion not just for people currently suffering the consequences of it and for "future generations," but for the Earth itself.
In addition: “The Bridge and the Monument: A Tale of Two Legacies” contrasts the racially-inclusive social vision of the late Dr. Abigail H. Jordan with the racially-oppressive politics of former Georgia (USA) governor Eugene Talmadge. (Included in the appendices are statements are statements on community efforts to change the name of the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge spanning the Savannah River.)
The title story looks at how the horrors of human trafficking exemplified by America's historic Civil War continue to haunt world populations in 2019. It further suggests how exercising compassion and forgiveness toward an unexpected population segment impacted by the war could play a significant role in finally healing from it. Anyone questioning the relevance of such an observation need only recognize calls for reparations for the descendants of Blacks who toiled in slavery in America for centuries continue to increase as the 2020 election for the next U.S. president grows closer.
Other stories in Dreams, "Like A Brazilian Thanksgiving in Savannah" and "Savannah by the Twenty-first Century Numbers" look at ways a sense of compassion informs our approaches to such issues as immigration, caregiving, the historic impact of demographic shifts, dynamics of inter-generational interactions, and embracing diversity.
NEXT: Hans Rosling’s Factfulness and the Search for Compassion Behind the Numbers Part 2
Because original versions of artwork included in the international first edition of Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah remained available for sale throughout process of publishing the book, there was some doubt about whether they should be listed in the Table of Contents. They are properly identified at the beginning of corresponding chapters but to further augment readers' experience of the connection between the book and its collectible illustrations, links to the original versions are included below in the enhanced Table of Contents.
When clicking the link to art on Dr. Abigail Jordan it will become apparent that the book illustration is a black and white detail of a much larger original. Moreover, the sole non-original exception to the listed artworks is a cartoon employed at the beginning of the story titled 'Riding the Bus with Man-Boy and Shaniquananda: And Then Not.' The cartoon is borrowed from a now defunct 1949 publication known as Riders Reader.
Enhanced Table of Contents for
The phrase “Immortal City” as used in this chapter is borrowed from the title of the first volume of the four-book Civil War Savannah Series (by historian Barry Sheehy, photographer Cindy Wallace, and historian Vaughnette Goode-Walker) which in 2011 was published in commemoration of the American Civil War sesquicentennial.
Possibly the most important function served by dreams is that during periods of social, political, or personal stagnation, they can provide the catalyst for continued progressive movement forward. It was what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream did for America at a time when the developing practices of democracy were stalled by racism, gender inequality, class prejudice, and other forms of social injustice. It is what the innovative visions of diverse creative thinkers around the world may be doing for humanity right now.
Harlem Renaissance Centennial
“When considering how the practices of slavery, philanthropy, and rebellion could all converge behind the exquisitely-rendered doors of the Telfair Museum, it becomes less difficult to imagine the different implications of it housing works by artists as diverse as France’s Claude Monet (Nov 14, 1840 – Dec 5 1926), America’s Luther E. Vann (Dec 2, 1937-April 6, 2016), and Lebanon’s Kahlil Gibran (Jan 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931)... There is a kind of unrecognized kinship between their painted meditations on the layered realities of human existence and the ever-unfolding wonders of time’s relationship with space, and light’s eternal dance with shadows and hues.” (from Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah)
The above reference to “practices of slavery” (hopefully obviously) should not be taken as allusion to those associated with today’s Telfair Museums of Art. It refers rather to past practices which made possible the foundation upon which the museum was founded. It is nevertheless painfully relevant to our modern times because of the current pandemic of human trafficking. That makes the work and function of the modern Telfair Museums, which often bridges cultural divides and celebrates human diversity, all the more essential.
100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance
Gift of Redeemed Integrity
I had spent many years staying as far away as I could avoiding a city that I associated more with fear, grief, and pain than I did with love or joy. It is no secret that we have first to claim the injuries that antagonize us before we can release the suffering caused by them. Claiming my own was further compounded by newer challenges that continued to pile up in real-time. These too had to be endured, rejected, screamed about and cried over, confronted, and then finally claimed before healing growth could take place.
For a century and a half, my city––and my country––had been like me. They had tried––like me––to avoid pain at all conceivable costs. Not only did this prove, in the end, impossible, but neither was it (as one finally realized) at all desirable.
Terror can sometimes surprise us by eventually revealing itself as a gateway to beauty, just as ineluctable destiny can––sometimes––unlock doors to freedom. Very possibly, more than the transformative grace it can bring to your own life is the gift of redeemed integrity it can present to the lives––and deaths––of many others.
I like the phrase 'gift of redeemed integrity' from the previous sentence because for those struggling with adverse circumstances it reaffirms the all-important value of "keeping your eyes on the prize." That kind of focus can be difficult to maintain during chaotic times in tumultuous environments. Daring to believe it was even possible to do so played a major role in constructing for readers over the period of a decade the writings and visual art presented in the pages of Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah.
Co-Author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Creator of Silk-Featherbrush ArtStyle
About the Author:
A passionate reader, committed writer, artist, photographer, dedicated practitioner of mindfulness, hurricane survivor, maker of poems, believer in the value of compassion, historian, award-winner, journalist, adherent of beauty, and student of wisdom.
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