Bright spots

Lots of lows, a few highs, and 5 links worth your time

We’re about to enter the last month of 2021. Soon, everyone will be reflecting on the past year. Get ready for “top ten” and “best of” lists! It won’t be long before you’ll be seeing all the “highs and lows of 2021.” 

News of the Omicron variant dominated headlines over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and I found myself struggling to think beyond the lows of 2021. It’s relatively easy to come up with a lot of bad things that happened in 2021, but building out a list of “highs” was a lot harder for me. 

so many problems

For instance, I recently read a summary of a new UNESCO report. The headline of that piece quoted the report: “Our future as humanity is in peril.” According to one member of the UNESCO commission, “The main problems we’re trying to fix are climate change, democratic backsliding, growing social inequality, and growing social fragmentation.” Whew. Those are some big problems. 

As luck would have it, at exactly the same moment I was pondering the challenge of “thinking positive” in this climate, the minister at my church mentioned Chip and Dan Heath’s 2010 bestselling book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard in his sermon. 

I read Switch when it was published, but I can’t say I’ve been thinking a lot about it in the interim. The sermon focused on the second chapter, “Find the Bright Spots.” As the minister was talking, I was laughing to myself about the possibility of finding bright spots among all those problems UNESCO listed as threats to the future of humanity.  

Moving from hopeless to hopeful 

There was a reason Switch was a bestseller, though. Chip and Dan Heath’s message is a hopeful one, but it isn’t naïve. Back in 2010 when the book was published, even though we hadn’t even heard of some of the problems we’re facing in 2021, the Heaths knew many of society’s problems seem “hopelessly complex.” In order to solve those problems, we ask ourselves what seems like a reasonable question: “What’s broken and how do we fix it?” 

What if, instead of focusing on what is broken—climate change, democratic backsliding, growing social inequality, for instance—we asked ourselves a different question: “What’s working and how can we do more of it?” That’s a question, according to the Heaths, that leads us to another question that will ultimately help us change the things we need to change: “What, exactly, needs to be done differently?” 

Looking for the bright spots 

We’ll have to do more than ask questions if we’re going to solve hopelessly complex problems, but at least it’s a start. Being overwhelmed and paralyzed by the scale of the problems we face isn’t going to lead to change, either.  

This week, in addition to links to the summary of the UNESCO report and the Heath’s own synopsis of Switch from 2010, I’m sharing a few bright spots from 2021. You’ll notice that each of these stories focuses on local, small-scale solutions. Perhaps these stories and that theme might help us better understand what, exactly, we need to be doing differently if we want more highs and less lows in 2022 and beyond! 

5 links worth your time

  1. New UNESCO report says global education should focus on these 4 problems.  
  2. Clone the bright spots to solve problems. An exclusive book excerpt of Switch
  3. A focus on local solutions to climate change brings bright spots to many classrooms.  
  4. The internet was the future once, and it can be again.  
  5. Young entrepreneurs in Kansas City tackle the racial wealth gap.  

Photo by HNKz on Adobe Stock