Are you familiar with sparklines?

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“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sparklines are those little line charts you see summarising the variation in some measurement, like a stock market share price. They’re a simple and very condensed way to convey complex information quickly,  but they can also be very misleading for that same reason. Unless you pay attention to the context or perspective they’re presenting, they can lead you to think things are going one way when actually they’re not. For example, on any given day if you were to look at just that day’s performance in the highly volatile Tesla stock price, you might be convinced they’re in a terrible investment. But expand that perspective out to the past year and it’s a quite startlingly different story. 

If we were to come up with some measure of human progress, put that into a sparkline, and then focus that sparkline on the last few weeks, or even the past year, we might assume things are really bad. By most reasonable definitions of progress, our sparkline would be red and trending downward. 

However, if you were to adjust the perspective to show the past decade or the past century, you’d see a very different line. Certainly, there would be periodic spikes downward, but also many upward shifts. And, while it might be hard to believe right now, the overall trend would be upward. 

That’s because progress is inevitable. Not because it’s easy. And certainly not because it’s the path of least resistance. No, human progress is inevitable because of the irrepressible nature of our collective human spirit, and our relentless desire to learn and grow from our mistakes. We will always find a path forward in the end. It is sometimes frustratingly – agonizingly – slow progress, and along with the steps forward, there will be the inevitable missteps and steps backward. But focusing your sparkline on those moments will mislead you.

Try to take a moment today to expand your perspective and you will see a much brighter picture.

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