Passion without pragmatism is just complaining.
This video from Good Morning Britain is being likened to the most infamous scene in Don't Look Up. Yet, the climate activist is in the wrong here. I devoted an entire chapter in my book to the idea of pragmatic altruism as it's been the missing piece in getting people on board with our cause.
The reason more people aren't behind our cause is we're making it difficult to understand, relate to, and get behind. If we want the 99% of people who aren't as passionate to listen, we've got to stop screaming at them.
I’m not discounting the need for passion. I, for one, understand that passion is the only thing that gets people like us out of bed in the morning. Passion is the driving force that helps us push the proverbial shit uphill. But, wouldn’t it be so much easier to propel that shit around if there was an actual plan in place? To paraphrase a witty exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.
In business, people often say “make a plan and work your plan.” The sustainability community, too, must make a plan and stick to it. We’re not talking about any old plan. The plan has to be strategic, executable, and most importantly, based on reality. From going off the grid to developing artificial moons, some of our ideas aren’t the least bit sane. You wouldn’t trust an architect to build a supertall skyscraper if they refused to take into account the law of gravity. You’d hope a pilot wouldn’t push the engines to full throttle and take the plane up into the stratosphere just to get to your destination faster. No patient today would go to the hospital and ask for bloodletting to cure their ailments. That’s because there are bounds to reality that we simply have to operate within.
Why, then, do we give folks in public good a pass when it comes to being realistic? Why do we let them propose plans, execute programs, or shut down city streets for fantastical dreams? When you think about it rationally, it just doesn’t make sense.
Systemic changes like the ones these protesters were fighting for do not happen overnight. It takes generations and generations. By demanding such an intangible outcome weren’t they just setting themselves up for failure and disappointment?
Not only does failure breed frustration, but also lends itself to apathy, complacency, and despondency. A more pragmatic approach would harness the passion of those same people but have a realistic, shared goal in mind. That shared goal should also be meaty but bite-sized and something we can all get behind.
At no point in any of these recommendations would I ask anyone to give up their passion. Instead, I’m demanding they focus further in. This way, they can get what it is they’re after. Passion is the car. Pragmatism is the road.