If I asked you for reasons to be pessimistic about 2018, you probably wouldn't have to think very long to come up with a long list of suggestions. There's nuclear saber rattling, the now nearly routine drumbeat of horrific shootings and bombings, political dysfunction, economic struggle for many Americans, ominous weather weirdness, and on and on.

But just because the headlines are full of bad news, doesn't mean the world is actually getting worse, insists Time's first-ever guest editor -- none other than Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder turned philanthropist has been on an optimism offensive lately, trying to convince worried citizens that the world isn't really going to pot. His stint at Time is his latest effort to stir up hope and energy for change.

"Bad news arrives as drama, while good news is incremental--and not usually deemed newsworthy. A video of a building on fire generates lots of views, but not many people would click on the headline 'Fewer buildings burned down this year,'" Gates points out in his introductory essay for the magazine (published also on his blog).

To counteract this bias towards negativity, Gates has asked some of the world's most visionary thinkers to share their rationales for hope, kicking off proceedings with his own list of causes to be optimistic that the world might actually get better this year, including these happy facts:

  1. Since 1990 the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been cut in half, saving 122 million young lives.

  2. In the same period, the fraction of people living in extreme poverty has gone from one third to one tenth.

  3. More than 90 percent of children now attend primary school worldwide.

  4. Women now make up more than a fifth of members of parliaments around the world.

  5. Workplace and road safety in the U.S. has risen dramatically since our grandparents' time.  

Why is stirring up hope so urgently important now? Because as activist and author of Hope in the Dark Rebecca Solnit has argued, without hope people give up the will to fight to make their world a better place.

"Hope locates itself in the premises that we don't know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes - you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others," she has written in the UK Guardian.

"Your opponents would love you to believe that it's hopeless, that you have no power, that there's no reason to act, that you can't win. Hope is a gift you don't have to surrender, a power you don't have to throw away," she urges those on the edge of losing hope.

So if you want to make the world a better place in 2018 (and here's hoping we all do), you need to start with the sincere hope that it's possible to make the world a better place. Bill Gates, for his part, is determined to help to keep that hope alive.

Published on: Jan 5, 2018
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