Thankful, Historically Speaking

In many ways we’ve regressed as a society over the past decade or so or longer.  But in the big picture, over the last hundred years, the world overall has become much much better.  And I’m thankful for being in the world now.  It’s not perfect, and let’s be clear, there are places in the world now that are as worse than the worst places a hundred years ago.  But globally it’s pretty damn good if you compare it to the recent and distant past.

I enjoyed reading this Nicholas Kristof column about how the world has fewer wars, less genocide, less racism and sexism, and is less violent in general.  It’s well worth a read by a writer normally fixated on the empty half of the glass.  I began thinking about how my life would be different if I were living a hundred years or so ago.

I’m thankful for being alive.

A thousand years ago, the average life expectancy was 24 years old.  And it was largely a brutal 24 years.  A hundred years ago the average life expectancy of an American was 47 for men, 51 for women.  In Korea at the time, the life expectancy during the Japanese occupation plummeted to 37 years old.  I’d already be dead by now if my family had never immigrated to the US.  And even then, I’d only have a few more years left.

I’m thankful for my freedom.

In fact, it’d be more likely that I’d be one of the 5.4 million plus conscripted soldiers and workers forced into labor by the Japanese Empire.  Most of the world at that time was under some form of imperial tyranny.  I wouldn’t be an American quietly typing in a Tokyo apartment.  I’d be an imperial subject toiling away in a mine living a much shorter life.

A hundred years ago in Oregon, one of the places I call home, I wouldn’t have been able to own land nor vote and I’d be living in fear of being lynched or have my settlement raided by white locals.  Also, I wouldn’t have been able to be in an interracial relationship, which was punishable by hanging.

I’m thankful my daughter has choices.

In fact, a century ago, no women were able to vote anywhere in the world.  New Zealand was the first in 1917.  Qatar only granted it in 1997.  Hey, Qatar, welcome to civilization!

She can now get a safe abortion.

She can get a divorce.

She has more legal protection against violence and discrimination.

I’m thankful for a healthy family.

If you have complaints about your doctor now, 90% of physicians then didn’t even have a college education.

There was no insulin.  I’m thankful that my diabetic father is in great health.

There were no antibiotics.  So the leading causes of death in the US in order were pneumonia, the flu, tuberculosis and diarrhea.  All easily treatable now.

In Japan, my baby daughter gets free healthcare until 6 years old.  I’m pretty sure that didn’t exist back then.

We don’t live in a perfect world but we do live in an improving world.  So today at least I’m thankful for all the things I have.  Tomorrow I’ll go back to the fight to make it better.

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