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the power of...

Scott Maxwell - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Attitude is such a powerful thing. We’ve all heard about the glass half full or empty and seen the picture of the beautiful maiden/crone that changes her visage as we learn to look at the picture a bit differently. This weeks news brought just that sort of juxtaposition with two very different stories that looked at inequality, opportunity and progress in the world.

The first you would have had a hard time missing and discussed the widening disparity between the ultra-rich and the poor in the world. Oxfam released the results of a study showing that the fortunes of the richest 85 people in the world equal the combined wealth of the bottom one half of the world’s population. An eye opener for sure and a dismal sort of fact if there ever was one. Or so it seems.

The counter-point in my reading was a different sort of story, the 2014 annual letter of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. If you’ve read the above  from Oxfam it’s well worth perusing this one too. The picture painted here is one of hope, progress and success in combating hunger, disease and ignorance in all the far flung parts of the globe.

Granted these are not identical issues, but the stories painted couldn’t differ more. The lesson, as we see it, is twofold (ok, the lessons are manifold but we’ll just talk about two of them!), first that the global wealth distribution picture isn’t a zero sum game. The rich getting richer doesn’t mean that the poor are getting poorer, in fact quite the opposite is often true, especially if more of the well-off heed the call for more charitable bequests from those fortunate enough to gather such masses of wealth.

The second lesson is a bit more personal and has to do with how we frame our thinking. Either the world is careening toward disaster or the planet is slowly getting better and better, you can find ample evidence to support either view. So it’s important to find balance and look for the other side of the story, especially if the story is being told in the popular press. Always remember, “if it bleeds it leads” when it comes to the news and we are all well advised to bear this in mind as we make choices about our charitable efforts, our political stances and of course, our portfolios.

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