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  • A Story of Two Idealists


    I sat in on a FLOW meeting last night and found it very interesting. They asked participants to read “A Story of Two Idealists,” by Michael Strong, from the FLOW website. The story is about two people, Julian and Patrice, who want to “save/change the world” - your typical “idealist,” comme moi, you might say.

    The story goes: Julian works at all these non-profits, making no money, fighting City Hall to no avail. He eventually becomes a school teacher (again, making no money), and essentially resigns himself to being a cog in a machine that he has zero control over. In he end, he becomes disillusioned with the inefficacy of the school system, and though he makes differences in a few people’s lives (comme, no doubt, George Bailey a la It’s a Wonderful Life), he can’t take it anymore and quits teaching.

    Patrice, the second idealist, gets involved with FLOW, which aims to use capitalism/free enterprise/the system, whatever you want to call it, to make a difference. She learns to turn swords into ploughshares, I guess. Presumably, Patrice, because she is making a good living and changing the world through micro-entrepreneurship and international sustainability groups, doesn’t fall victim to the disillusionment that Julian does. She sees her work actually amounting to something, and it makes her a happier person.

    Now, I understand the logic of these stories. They remind me, actually, of a speaker I heard at the D.C. Green Festival, who said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “We don’t need to waste our time trying to remodel the un-sustainable cruise ship the rest of world is living and working on. We just need to build a better, more sustainable ship, and float it up next to theirs. Everyone will be able to see how much greener the grass is on our side of the dock, and want to get on board.”

    The problem with this logic, though, is that it is not exactly systemic thinking. You cannot simply slap a new system on top of an old system (although, China tried). You must find purchase within the existing system, a leverage point from which a chain reaction can be executed, to break the old patterns. With regard to the two idealists, I ask: if Julian gives up teaching to work for Ashoka, who is going to be teaching and inspiring the next generation? Who is going to be working with school systems to integrate this new model of business into public school curricula? Because if there isn’t a plan for that, the rest of the world is going to take off while our children stagnate in the same broken system that drains idealism in the first place.

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