Developing and developed countries. We see them in the news. We hear presidents, celebrities, journalists, smart people use them. But what do the terms actually mean? Are there any implications for both sides?
It’s basically labeling, and we know that there are always implications from labeling.
This book changed my mind
We have a book club at Saturday Drive (the company that I’m working for), and in January, our book was Factfulness by Hans Rosling. The book was already on my radar before that, but never on the top of my reading list. I have other books that I want to read with more interesting titles. But after reading it, this book has easily become the best book I read this year (I know, it’s only March, but the book was really good).
I got the paperback copy of the book, because it’s not available on Scribd, but I didn’t regret it at all. I’m glad that I bought the paperback.
Factfulness is about the 10 ‘myths’ we believe about the world.
The 10 myths are:
- The Gap Instinct
- The Negativity Instinct
- The Straight Line Instinct
- The Fear Instinct
- The Size Instinct
- The Generalization Instinct
- The Destiny Instinct
- The Single Perspective Instinct
- The Blame Instinct
- The Urgency Instinct
These widely accepted ‘facts’ make the world seems worse than it is, so Hans tried to get our worldview right by presenting the data and showing us graphs, mostly trends about something declining or rising.
But the one that intrigued me the most was the first myth, or what Hans called ‘instinct’. It’s the Gap Instinct, which is about how we tend to divide things into extremes and ignore the gap in the middle.
One example of this instinct at work is when we divide countries into developed and developing countries.
(For more interesting data, visit Hans’s organization, Gapminder.org).
I used those terms in my article
Not too long ago, I wrote an article about being an Indonesian who works with people from around the world. I wrote it because I’m interested in the world, culture, and people. And since I’m working with people from different cultures, I want to share my experience and opinions on that matter.
But in that article, I still used the terms developed and developing countries. I talked all about seeing myself as equal in front of people from other countries, but I was still using the terms that separate ‘us’ and ‘them’. Unconsciously, I was still separating my country from the rest of the ‘developed world’, or the ‘west’.
Even Hans caught himself making this mistake and wrote it in his book. The concept is just planted so deeply in our minds.
Why it’s no longer relevant
But Hans had the world’s data (that’s actually available to all of us with the Internet), and his data showed that the terms developed and developing country were no longer relevant.
What is a developing country?
What is a developed country?
If it’s about the mortality rate of babies at birth, then 85% of humankind is already in the box of developed countries. If it’s about the daily wage of people in the country, we’re also doing pretty great. Only a minority of the world can be categorized as developing countries.
You may think something like, “But it’s just a term,” now, but it’s not, it’s more than that. It affects the mindsets of the people categorized in these boxes.
It does more damage than you can imagine
People start believing that it’s true
You see, because of the colonization that I talked about in this article, we’ve (Indonesians) been taught since forever that we won’t be able to be better. It’s the seventh misconception in Hans’ book, it’s the Destiny Instinct. We’ve been believing that we’re destined to be this way, to be a developing country. We just have to accept it. The Westerners will always be better than us.
What would you do if you’re told that you couldn’t change, ever? If you’re a farmer, and you’re told that this land is just barren, what would you do next?
People start losing hope
Once you believe that your country is destined to be ‘a developing country’, that there’s no way we’re going to improve, you’re going to stop trying. Because you believe that there’s no point in trying.
People are leaving
You stop trying. So you’re just moving on with your day-to-day life. You’re becoming a skeptic. Or, if you’re an idealist that’s ambitious, people would encourage you to move somewhere abroad where you’d be more valued and respected.
I see this all the time with my high school friends. Almost all of them are high achievers, people who are capable of making real changes, but they’re obsessed with moving to ‘developed’ countries. I don’t blame them, they want a better life for themselves. They’re not valued what they’re worth here.
But how can we grow if good people keep leaving?
Adopting growth mindset for the country
Instead of dividing 195 countries in the world into two boxes, Hans divided them into four income levels.
It’s (only) a matter of perspective. Indonesia isn’t the best country in the world to live in, but it is improving. Change is possible.
In fact, in the four income levels, Indonesia is already on level three. That means we have an income of $16 a day, our savings are impressive, and that we have access to tap water. Most of us can save to buy a motorcycle, which means we can travel to a better-paying job at the factory in town.
See? Not too shabby, right?
Watch your language
The language we use mirrors the beliefs that we have. Stop using those terms, start thinking more highly of your country.
Start seeking more good news
The news is run by people, too. Like us, they’re more attracted to negative events, that’s why we see way more negative news than positive news. But we don’t have to consume them all. We can actively seek the positive, so that our perspective can be more optimistic.
Have hope and faith
And growth mindset. Talk to your grandparents, ask them about ‘their time’, and you’ll see that we have come a long way. Improvements are made everyday, everywhere, even in Indonesia. It’ll get even better in the future, if we support it and give it some time.
Do something (and don’t leave)
Please don’t leave. If you’re pursuing your education abroad, please go back to your country, unless you can do something for your country from the country that you live in.
We’re all humans
Yes, we have differences. Yes, the labels are there to help us categorize the countries. But no, it shouldn’t limit our hope for our countries. If people from level 4 countries stop seeing level 1-3 as ‘developing’ countries, and level 1-3 stop seeing level 4 as ‘developed’ countries, we will all be equal. We’ll reach our potentials, together.