Pragmatic Idealism: Doing It Better

262942_6945 A few years ago, my good friend Chris Hess told me to listen to a podcast from NPR’s Speaking of Faith titled The Business of Doing Good. It was an interview with Jonathan Greenblatt, the co-founder of Ethos Water and CEO of GOOD Magazine. The other Ethos founder, Peter Thum, was doing consulting work in South Africa and he came face to face with people living without clean water. Recognizing that there are billions of people with a need for water and the bottled water industry was a multi-billion dollar industry, Jonathan and Peter founded Ethos Water as a business to help children around the world in 2002.

There are those who think the product irrational and contradictory. The bottled water industry continued to grow though, and Jonathan thought that if they could build a socially conscious brand and steal some market share from the multinationals who dominate the category, then redirect those dollars towards children in need around the world, they thought that a pretty good outcome. As he said, “It’s definitely not perfect, but I would say progress, not perfection, should be the measure.”

He’s among those modeling Pragmatic Idealism where people roll up their sleeves and focus on doing something practical to change the world we live in now. Improving society through business is one way. Jonathan asks the question, “Do we allow the market to run our lives or rather do we use the market to achieve social good?”

Today, Starbucks owns Ethos and has given over 6 million dollars on behalf of Ethos. Some note that’s just a drop in the bucket of their total earnings on Ethos. When asked about this, Jonathan had this to say:

To those people who would protest and say ‘I don’t like Ethos because it’s part of the problem rather than part of the solution,’ I say bravo! Then come join us. You start a better one. You start a better company that will drive millions of dollars to help these people in need. You go petition Congress to pass the Water for the Poor Act. You think about a strategy to engage people. Pragmatic idealism isn’t just about waving red flags…it’s not talking, it’s about doing.

I love that quote. It’s stayed with me. It’s a challenge to do it better rather than just being critical. It’s challenges me because in the everyday moments of life, it’s hard to maintain a positive attitude where we focus on how to get something done rather than complain about how various obstacles are in our way or how certain people are treating us. It’s also challenging because I hear so much negativity from other people about what’s wrong with the world and what THEY are doing now. It’s challenging because it’s so easy to sit at a computer and write a negative post or comment tearing others down.

There are people who choose to enter the arena and try to make things better, whether it be in business, politics, education, development, or other spheres. It’s easy to criticize people for not doing enough from the comfort of our homes. There’s a place for criticism, but within the Christian community, I hear too much negative criticism and too little imaginative hope. We need to confront, but we also need to to inspire hope.

Are we willing to take a risk and do it better ourselves? I realize we all have different situations and commitments, and the point of this post is not to add tasks to anyone’s life. Rather, it’s to challenge our tendencies to criticize from the sidelines and to pray about whether we should take any focused steps towards doing something good. We don’t live in an ideal world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t aspire in some way towards an ideal that matters in someone’s life, whether that be at our workplace or in the halls of Congress.

May you live in anticipation of that day when God makes all things whole again.