Monday, January 17, 2011

The Mountaintop

I'm a person who thinks in the long-term. I'm not much for process or details, but I think about the bigger picture, the end-game. I like ideas and notions more than I like thinking about how to put those thoughts effectively into action. At one point in my life, I dismissed policy and practice as secondary to the concept they are trying to create, but now I'm beginning to realize how important those details are. If you can't make an idea work in the reality of a situation, it doesn't do anyone any good.

But I still tend to think of things in the bigger picture. Especially when considering nonprofit and social change work, I always ask myself, where is this going? What are the eventual goals of this work? Will there really be a time where there is nothing more to solve and don't have to worry about all of the problems we face now?

I'd like to say yes, but I'm not sure if that's based in reality. Last week, I wrote a post about the role of philanthropy in the long-term, and Sean from Tactical Philanthropy commented:
[W]hile I appreciate your goal of "putting yourself out of business", the underlying assumption is that if we work hard enough we can create a utopia where attempts to increase social welfare will not be needed.

That ain't gonna happen.
Sometimes, I agree with him. The intellectual side of me knows that there is no way we as a species can reach a point were we have no problems and there is no suffering. The law of unintended consequences shows that no matter how hard we try to solve all the world's problems, any intervention can spawn new problems where we least expect them.

This intellectual and rational side of me is constantly at odds with the side of me that completely and wholeheartedly agrees with the vision set out by people like Dr. Martin Luther King. He saw a world that was free of struggle and full of love and peace. In his final public speech, "I Have Been to the Mountaintop," he said that he didn't worry anymore, because he knew that one day, somehow, we'd get to that promised land. I'm not one to disagree with a visionary like Dr. King, so I don't know how to reconcile these two opposing thoughts in my mind.

I think the best that we, as those working to put Dr. King's vision into practice, can do is to create a world that can adapt and solve problems as quickly as they arise. As I said in my last post, that is not what the nonprofit sector does right now. There needs to be many changes to how resources are allocated before we can get to that point.

This tension between the desire to build a perfect future and the reality that we can never foresee all the problems we will face is a constant struggle for me. But I cannot keep worrying about the future and what it will look like. I need to trust the words of Dr. King that he saw the future promised to us, and whatever it looks like, we will get there. I can only do my small part to build on the legacy left by him. He was not worried on that night before he was assassinated, and so I too don't worry.

To celebrate the day honoring his memory, a clip from his "I Have Been to the Mountaintop" speech:

Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of Venture Philanthropy Partners

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