Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and once the richest man in the world, recently did an open question session on one of the major social media platforms, Reddit, which he then followed up with a great question for the online community.
To paraphrase, he asked: Considering all the bad news out there in the world, what is something good that is happening right now?
We all need a palate cleanser from time to time, especially when the 24-hour news cycle is so obsessed with reporting increasingly “hard” news. Hard in the sense of hard to bear, usually the violence and despair of the human condition.
It is very important not to turn away from this lest we ignore or worse yet forget that there is suffering and we can do better. But sometimes it does feel like a little levity is needed in newsrooms, like maybe they should experiment with breaking good news at least once in a while.
So the question about what is good in the world opened the floodgates of optimistic information ranging from the health of bees to the reminder that never has the world been a healthier and more prosperous place for humanity... in spite of what the news makes us feel like. Palate cleansed. In that spirit I offer some of the nicer “things” that have happened recently.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, US, who are taking on the issue of gun control are an inspiration. They have been met with predictable resistance along the way, but what I found interesting is how frequently their detractors tried to dismiss these young people as being too immature to be doing this of their own volition.
In return the students have proved to be very eloquent, passionate, peaceful, informed and determined. They might even be able to get a breakthrough on the gun control debate that previous attempts by adults and politicians haven’t managed.
In a similar vein — and this I found out from a comedy show of all places — students at a secondary school in Sydney Grammar School, Australia, figured out how to make a generic version of a very expensive drug in their chemistry laboratory. So they are making it to figure out how to either give it away for free to those who need it, or considerably undercut the prices set by Big Pharmaceutical.
We all know that young people are kind of wonderful but it is so nice to be given reminders like this about what they can achieve — both in politics and in science. Although arguably the student chemists who are trying to disrupt drug prices are also engaging in a form of political activism.
I am still waiting patiently for the day when we allow youth and children to wield considerable influence over our governments as important peers and moral compasses. Imagine what it would be like to live in the kind of utopia that level of unvarnished idealism would strive for.
In a virtual way, though, this utopia is within reach. It is hard to fathom how much social media has shrunk the world and is creating a radical egalitarianism.
Anyone at any age of any gender from anywhere could sit at a computer on the other side of the world from a Bill Gates or an Elon Musk (can we insist that he is an African? Yes? Okay) and be able to chat with them casually about whether a hotdog is a sandwich or not, or how their projects are going, or what they can do to make the world slightly better and completely collapsing the hierarchies that we so like to create between ourselves. Now that is a palate cleanser.