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In 100 Years…

When we look back at history and read the stories of past generations, we often ask questions like “How could people think that way?”  “How could they have been so cruel?” “How could they treat other human beings like that?” Generations of humans have thought these thoughts, said these words, and made small steps forward. 

We’ll be no different. What do I mean? Let’s take healthcare for example. 

Healthcare is an area where we’ve made significant progress in recent years. We’ve guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, expanded access to care, extended coverage to more Americans, developed new treatments and medicines, and made incremental progress toward something better. And yet, our healthcare system is still a long way from perfect.

In 100 years, I believe people will look back at how we’re managing our healthcare system today and they will ask those same questions of us. They will be shocked at our short-sightedness, our lack of compassion, our rampant greed, and our general stupidity. They’ll comment that the thing people called a healthcare system, was barely a system at all. They will note with more than a hint of irony that in many cases its ultimate goal wasn’t even to make human beings healthier. They’ll talk about how it was so bad back then, and how much better it’s gotten through time.  

The thought of this makes me smile. While in some ways, it recognizes that this is a mess right now, it’s a thought rooted in a belief that we can and will make things better, as will our children, as will their children. Not that it will be easy. Not that it will happen overnight. Not that the path will be clear or linear or smooth. But it will happen. The “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln termed them, will ultimately prevail. 

I feel the same way about issues of race, gender, poverty, income inequality, education, pollution, climate change, and the litany of other challenges we face. The list of problems is daunting. Yet, I still have faith that we will make progress across the board. 

All around us things are broken. It’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to find flaws. It’s easy to feel despair. But, when it seems dark, it’s good to remember that, on the whole, there’s never been a better time to be a living, breathing, human being. That does not mean that we’ve got it all figured out, that it’s all ok, or that there’s not significant work to be done and progress to be made. Hardly. To me it means that as Hans Rosling said, we’re both “bad and better” at the same time.

For a brief moment in time, we’re tasked with carrying the torch of human progress. We can stand still, we can hide in the shadows, or we can light the way forward. Let there be light.