The 7 billion rule

September 19th, 2014

There a seven billion people, give or take, alive on the planet. If you could give every single one of them a one-second handshake, it would take you 221 years without rest, give or take. Of course, by then there would be even more people, so you’d have to start over. And your arm would be sore.

That’s an enormously huge number of people. Nearly inconceivable, you might say. Just keep that concept in your mind and add this one.

Imagine a standard bell curve of seven billion people.

Let’s just pretend this bell curve can represent any measurable quality of people that we want it to: intelligence, morality, athletic ability, education, religiosity, etc. I know that the reality is different, and that the curve may not even be bell-shaped, but just stick with me for a minute.

The vast majority of those seven billion people, let’s even say 90% of them, are going to fall into the middle of this curve. In all of their diversity, these people are going to be able to pass for “normal” in whatever context they happen to be. This percentage could be higher or lower—it doesn’t really matter. I just want to point out that 90% of seven billion is still six billion three-hundred million (6,300,000,000). That’s still a lot of people. Now it would only take you 200 years to shake everyone’s hand.

Let’s imagine the very ends of the bell curve each represent 5% of the entire population of the planet. Both ends together are still seven-hundred million people (700,000,000), or more than twice the population of the United States (317,000,000).

Now we’re down to a nearly-manageable number. If you only shook the hands of five percent of seven billion people (three-hundred fifty million), one each second, it would take you only eleven years (without sleeping or bathroom breaks.)

What this means is that if 5% of the entire world’s population is abnormally mean, or stupid, or deranged, that population is larger than the entire United States. Even if we want to be charitable and say that only 1% of the world’s population is horrible in some way, we’re still talking about seventy million people, somewhere around the population of the U.K. or Turkey. (No offense to the people in either of these countries).

The reason I’ve asked you to perform this thought experiment is that whenever you turn on the news or see something viral on the Internet, you need to remember that simply because the world is a big place, at any given moment, there are at the very least seventy-million people in the world doing something that, in your opinion, is

• monstrous
• crazy
• immoral
• dangerous
• stupid
• cruel

You can, at this very moment, turn to the news or the Internet to find examples of someone doing something awful. Maybe someone was arrested for juggling babies and chainsaws, or someone married his horse, or someone kidnapped someone else and tortured them, or someone started a war, or someone pays strangers to eat their boogers. It doesn’t matter.

If you want to find evidence of the collapse of civilization and the end of the world, if you want to find support for your dismal view of humanity, it’s only a click away.


This is just a thought experiment, and the fact is that the bell curve and the math above is probably baloney. Because most of us are a strange mixture sinner and saint, villain and hero. Five percent of the time, I’m not at my best, and five percent of the time, I’m awesome.

And if the bell curve is true, it means that at any given time in the world, there are at the very least seventy-million people who are

• creating art
• inventing new technologies
• helping people in distress
• eradicating disease
• teaching others
• making the world better
• sharing the gospel

You can, at this very moment, turn to the news (maybe) or the Internet to find examples of someone doing something awesome. Someone was arrested for protesting an injustice, or someone found true love, or someone liberated someone else from captivity, or someone brokered a peace, or someone makes gourmet dinners for hungry strangers. It doesn’t matter.

If you want to find evidence of the Kingdom of God and end of the world’s darkness, if you want to find support for your view of the grace and beauty showered upon humanity, it’s only a click away. The choice of how you see the world is entirely up to you.

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